Monday, November 26, 2012

Leopoldville 1902 – First Hospital for Congolese

The first hospital for African - Hopital de la Rive
The first hospital for Congolese opened in Leopoldville in 1902, built by Cdt. Mahieu along a strip of land downstream from the port between Mount Leopold and the rapids (See Mar. 5,2011). Considering the fact that the colonial settlement on Ngaliema Bay had been already been established for 20 years and the first hospital for Europeans was only created a decade earlier, it is important to understand that concern for the health of Congolese was closely linked to awareness that sick Africans could transmit their illnesses to the vulnerable European population.  This perceived (though erroneous) threat represented the justification for the creation of “neutral zones” between the two communities (See July 31, 2011). 
The two medical services continued to be closely linked, notwithstanding the segregation inherent in their respective operations, and played exemplary roles in delivering health care to the growing city.  Dr. Gustave Dryepondt established the hospital for Europeans in 1891, in a paillote near the river.  Six years later, the Association Congolaise et Africaine de la Croix Rouge (a charity founded by Leopold II in 1887), opened a hospital at the top of Mount Leopold on the Caravan Road. 
The Red Cross Hospital
This was followed in 1899 by a Laboratoire Médicale established by Dr. Van Campenhout. (replaced the following year by Alphonse Broden). This complex became the foundation for medical services in Leopoldville and the wider urban area until the 1930s.  The original laboratory was built on swampy ground near the Baptist Mission (SeeApr. 30, 2011) but was temporarily relocated to Boma while a new facility was being built adjacent to the hospital on the hill.
The Bacteriological Laboratory - now Commune de Ngaliema
Malaria among Europeans was an initial preoccupation, but sleeping sickness affecting Congolese necessitated particular attention as the spread of the disease affected the workforce.  When the Dutton-Todd expedition arrived in Leopoldville in November 1903 to study Trypanosomiasis (the scientific name for sleeping sickness) the doctors worked with Dr. Broden for seven months at the Hôpital des Noirs, as it was called, even sending several patients to Liverpool for treatment.  A contemporary observer noted that Leopoldville’s population had declined to only 100 African residents due to the disease.  Thousands of local Teke people were reported to have succumbed to the sickness.
Serious progress was made in expanding the hospital during 1906.  US Consul Smith visited Leopoldville from Boma in August 1907, reporting, “decently constructed buildings” on the river below town.  The patients were well-treated by a “skillful” physician interested in the work. In the same year, Dr. Jerome Rhodain joined Broden and took over the hospital and Lazaret.  A new Lazaret was built on the Kilimani plateau above the river and connected to the town’s water supply.
The Sleeping Sickness Lazaret
Interior of a lazaret
In 1907 as well, the Catholic order of the Soeurs Franciscains de Marie came to Leopoldville to work in the Red Cross hospital and Lazaret, and establish an orphanage. During 1911-13, a new Provincial doctor, René Mouchet, continued research into trypanosomiasis.  Queen Elisabeth provided funds to build a model Lazaret and establish a training school for African Medical Assistants.
Tuberculosis camp
As Kinshasa began to grow in importance and rival the original settlement at Leopoldville (Mar. 13, 2011), a Dispensary for Africans was established in Kinshasa in 1912 on the site of the current Hôpital Général de Réference (formerly Mama Yemo).  Three years later, the Soeurs Franciscaines were assigned to work at this hospital, as well.
Entrance to the Hopital des Noirs in Kinshasa
In 1920, Louise Pearce, an American researcher assigned by the Rockefeller Foundation arrived in Leopoldville to test tryparsamide as a treatment for sleeping sickness.  She observed that the 3-room ground floor of the Laboratory was nearly finished; the equipment was fairly good, though there was no electricity.  By 1922, the Laboratory was completed, although space was limited and plans were underway to move the facility to Kinshasa.  A new doctor at the hospital in Kinshasa allowed Dr. Van Hoof to devote full time to the Laboratory.  The following year, three new medical pavilions were opened next to the dispensary in Kinshasa.
New wings in the Hopital de Noirs -- 1920s
Another view of the Hopital des Noirs -- 1920s
The Kinshasa hospital was expanded in 1925 and modern radiology equipment was ordered.  By 1926, the hospital had 192 beds for men and 48 for women and children.  The following year, when a yellow fever epidemic threatened the city, the first cases of typhoid were also reported, suspected to have been transmitted by the opening of SABENA’s new air link to Elisabethville in Katanga. 
The dining hall
During King Albert and Queen Elisabeth’s visit to the city in July 1928, the Queen urged that a more commodious medical facility be constructed for the European population.  This led to a decision to construct a modern hospital in Kalina District, which became the Clinique Reine Elisabeth (August 5, 2011).  At this point as well, plans were finalized to move the Laboratory to Kinshasa while the original Congolese hospital by the river became a facility treating lepers.  The hospital in Kinshasa became the primary facility providing treatment to Congolese until the Kintambo hospital opened in 1958 (April 30, 2011). 
Queen Elisabeth visits the hospital -- 1928
Hopital de la Rive -- 2010
Commune de Ngaliema, formerly the Red Cross Hospital -- 2009
Commune de Ngaliema, former Bacteriological Laboratory -- 2006
Hopital General de Kinshasa, formerly Hopital des Noirs -- 2010

·         Foreign Relations of the United States, 1907, Vol.II.

·         Janssens, Edouard, 1912. Les Belges au Congo, Vol III.

·         Moulaert, Georges, 1948.  Souvenirs d’Afrique.



  1. My name is Guillaume, And I would like to use the Pictures to illustrates short "anecdotes" during tv emissions (of 1 minutes each) What can I do ? My Email adress :

    PS : dou you also speak french ?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Afternoon,

    I'm looking for some photos of hospitals in Kinshasa in the 1920s and came across your blog, which is a wonderful repositary of old images. Do you own the rights to the images? Would I be able to use your photos in an animation for broadcast? Let me know:

    Best wishes,

  4. Bay had been already been established for 20 years Autoclave and the first hospital for Europeans was only created a decade earlier,