A missionary surgeon who has spent the past 41 years working in Angola stopped in Red Deer on Friday to share his story and raise awareness about the health-care plight being faced in the West African country.
Dr. Stephen Foster, a third generation missionary, and his wife, Peggy, told a crowd of about 30 gathered at the Red Deer Public Library how they went from spending their 1973 honeymoon in Angola to raising their four children there. The couple continue to call Lubango, the capital city of the province Huíla, home.
Foster, 64, is currently the medical and general director of the Centro Evangélico de Medicina do Lubango, a medical centre he and Peggy pioneered, and an associate clinical professor of surgery at McMaster University in Ontario.
In 2010 he was the recipient of the Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
The Fosters continue to dedicate their lives to improving health care in the country, such as partnering with the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons to train more Angolan doctors and mentoring medical students from across the globe. Foster also hopes to connect with an orthopaedic surgeon in Calgary and work towards undertaking the 20-plus cases of people waiting for hip replacements in Lubango sometime next year.
“Retirement isn’t in our vocabulary,” said Peggy, 65. “And we need more people involved. We are always encouraging people to step outside what they know, come and see what they can do. There are so many different ways they can help.”
Foster was born in Brantford, Ont., but spent the majority of his life in Zambia where his parents, Dr. Robert and Belva Foster, worked in hospitals they helped found. His grandparents, Charles and June Foster, were also missionaries in Zambia in the early 1900s, and survived the Great Depression by having enough ammunition to harvest a hippopotamus now and then, Foster said.
“Watch out,” said Foster. “There is a love of Africa virus out there and it’ll get under your skin and there’s no immunization.”
Like his father, Foster knew he wanted to have a medical career but it wasn’t until his second year at medical school when he spent the summer of 1971 volunteering at a clinic in Angola that he knew he’d fallen in love with surgery.
From that point on, Angola had him hooked.
After his residency in Toronto, he returned to the country, in the thick of its bloody civil war, running a mission hospital in Kalukembe and training nurses for 12 years.
While there were apparent dangers and 11 of his colleagues were killed, Foster said his faith in God and in his work pulled him through.
He helped open the 46-bed Lubango centre in 2006 where 10,500 operations were performed in the first seven years and 4,000 cataract surgeries. Foster himself does over 1,000 surgeries of all kinds, each year.
But while 58,000 Angolans are now registered with a personal health chart, 47 per cent of the 18 million population still don’t have access to health care, Foster said.
There wasn’t event a dentist in the country until last year and Foster said he watched numerous patients die from a simple infected abyss in the mouth that spread.
He said eight more doctors are needed right now at the centre and many more in the rural villages throughout Angola.
The Fosters also plan to speak in Three Hills and Calgary before heading back overseas.