Laboratory Technology: A Vital Component of Health Care at IMCK
Modern medicine depends on laboratory technicians and technologists to make diagnostic and treatment decisions. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the range of diseases is broad: tuberculosis, malaria, cancers, AIDS, sleeping sickness, anemia and renal disease are encountered at IMCK’s Good Shepherd Hospital on a regular basis. Add to this the rising numbers of Covid-19 patients and one can understand the pressures of providing health care in the Kasai provinces.
In 1976, IMCK opened one of the first laboratory technician training programs in DR Congo. Earlier, the role of providing diagnostic functions was handled by medical missionaries from Presbyterian and Mennonite programs or Peace Corps workers. The Institut de Médical Technique (ITM), historically an institute for training nurses, added this new program and the first five students graduated in 1979. Subsequent graduating classes provided vital services and leadership both at IMCK and throughout DR Congo.
The Congolese government eventually defined a higher level of medical technicians – medical technologists – who would need advanced training. In 2010, IMCK created a college-level institution to do just this: the Institut Supérieur des Techniques Médicales (ISTM). This was a major step forward which provided not only a path to a degree as a medical technologist but also nursing specialists and health institution administrators.
One of the first stumbling blocks at ISTM was the lack of an instructor with a master’s degree in laboratory technology. In 2012 IMCK contracted with Jean Batena Tshisenge, who was teaching at ITM at the time, to pursue a master’s degree in the capital of Kinshasa which is 500 miles away from his home in Kananga. This was a major decision for Jean and for his family who would be separated from him during the two years he spent in Kinshasa.
Jean’s wife, Suzanne, is also a teacher at ITM and carried on her career and raising their family during Jean’s absence. This is a family that is committed to the success of IMCK and was willing to make a sacrifice in order to improve the capabilities of ISTM and the laboratory technical disciplines.
Jean returned to IMCK and, after a joyful reunion with his wife and five children, initiated the process with the IMCK Board of Directors to develop the laboratory technology program at ISTM. Jean, through his dedication as a leader and his Christian witness to all around him, has enriched the training program at IMCK and enhanced health care capabilities for his country. In 2019, the first ten students of this three-year program graduated, capable of providing great service to medical centers or industries such as those involved with water treatment or livestock management.
The path to success of the laboratory technology program has not always been smooth. The internal problems of DR Congo – weak economy, poor infrastructure, civil wars, pandemics – require a strong will on the part of both instructors and students. But progress is being made as ISTM students continue to graduate, and the quality of health care is rising! Praise God for the dedication of these Congolese people!
Jean was asked recently about the challenges of maintaining the program at ISTM. He indicated that support for teaching materials and equipment and funding for scholarships is critical. Items such as binocular microscopes, centrifuges, blood count apparatus, and culture reagent material are essential.
You can help Jean and the staff at ISTM and ITM by supporting the IMCK Endowment Fund. Earnings from this fund support various functions at IMCK including these two fine schools. Please consider a gift to this endowment and help improve – and save – the lives of our Congolese brothers and sisters. CLICK HERE for more information on how to give.
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’