DOUMANGA — In this western village in the Republic of Congo, the local health center lacks both material and human resources. As a result, the only male nurse in Doumanga is the one assigned to help women of the village give birth. For Max Banzoulo, it has become a noble mission that he carries out with great pride.

This unusual role includes care that comes well before the date of delivery, such as offering advice to women in order to limit the risks during childbirth. "When a pregnant woman arrives at the clinic for a medical check-up, he takes the time to carefully examine her specific situation," says Marie Ngoyi.

Ngoyi is married, has three children and is one of the women living in Doumanga — a small village of about 1,000 inhabitants — who gave birth with the help of Banzoulou, whom the women affectionately call the town's sage-homme. [Literally "wise man," a play on the French word sage-femme, meaning "midwife." French is the country's official language.]

Banzoulou graduated from the Jean Joseph Loukabou Paramedical Public School of Pointe-Noire, and is himself a father of three. "He practices a professional, ethical approach," says another mother, Ngouzi Diabizenga. "He‘s kind. His care and smile can heal you — there is no one else like him!"

Electricity cuts

When he began working in this health center in the middle of the Mayombe forest in 2009, Banzoulou decided to work overtime to make up for the lack of medical staff. "As we work in the bush, we have to do everything to compensate for the lack of midwives," he said. "It's hard, but I have to do it, in order to save lives."

"Midhusband" Max Banzoulo — Photo: adiac

The Doumanga medical center, which was built by locals in 1972, has four rooms: consultation, delivery, examination and care rooms. The facilities are underequipped and everything is in short supply: gloves, aspirin, scales to weigh children. On average, there are about four births a month. "Often, there's no electricity," says Ngouzi Diabizenga. "Our ‘midhusband' sometimes has to make deliveries with a flashlight."

In an effort to offer support last October, Congo's Ministry of Health assigned two young female trainees to Doumanga from the Paramedical School Jean Joseph Loukabou. Banzoulou started training them right away. Says Sandra Mouaya, one of the trainees, "We now know how to conduct a consultation, prepare a perfusion, make stitches and even help women give birth. We couldn't do it when we first got here."

Eric Makaya, a village resident, wants the government to send female midwives and trained nurses to help women give birth — instead of a man. "It is possible for a man to do it, but a woman for these situations is better."

Don't tell that to all the mothers cared for by Max Banzoulou.