La Tour d’Auvergne, 630 inhabitants, wants to do everything to attract a new general practitioner

By Frédéric Potet

Posted today at 6:30 a.m., updated at 9:44 a.m.

On August 23, when the most total confusion reigned in Kabul, Yannick Tournadre felt it necessary to write to Jean-Yves Le Drian. So what did the mayor of La Tour d’Auvergne (Puy-de-Dôme), a large town of 630 inhabitants perched at an altitude of 1,000 m in the heart of the Sancy massif, have to say to the Minister of Foreign Affairs? Simply that his commune, like so many others, was ready to welcome Afghan refugees. Not just any refugees though: “The possible arrival of an Afghan doctor in our village would be a real godsend and a guarantee of success and integration”, he specified.

The lack of response from the Quai d’Orsay did not surprise Mr. Tournadre, but did not thwart his project: to find a general practitioner to replace the official doctor of the town, Jérôme Valette, carried away by the coronavirus in April 2020, during the deadliest times of the pandemic.

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A year and a half after the disappearance of Dr Valette, at the age of 65, La Tour d’Auvergne seems inconsolable. Stronghold of an illustrious eponymous noble family (the House of La Tour d’Auvergne), the village has always housed a doctor; we even saw one, Paul Godonnèche, become mayor, then deputy at the end of the 1950s.

Tragic as it may be, the death “in office” of Dr Valette today places the town in front of a scourge that the rural environment is familiar with: medical desertification. The patients of the deceased practitioner thus came to clog the waiting rooms of his closest colleagues, up to 25 km away. In order to regulate the demand, one of them, of Romanian nationality, offered to consult temporarily one and a half days a week, in the office of Dr. Valette, left as it is.

“The country doctor par excellence”

On its walls, a naive painting bought in Haiti and a stencil from Thailand bear witness to the career of the general practitioner, who arrived here in 2003 after twenty years in the humanitarian sector. The man knew a lot about health crises. Hence the astonishment, which continues to hover over the village: “We were aware that he was not invulnerable, but he had gone through so many difficulties and epidemics abroad that it was inconceivable that he could die here because of an illness”, says Patrick Meynie, retired postman and former patient of Dr Valette.

Haitian painting in the office of Dr. Valette.

Born in 1954 in Abidjan, where his mother taught English, Jérôme Valette had a passion for humanitarian medicine. His CV describes countless missions around the world, such as the management of clinics in Chad, the coordination of a health survey on displaced persons in Cambodia or the management of a field hospital in Afghanistan in a context of war. . This globetrotter had worked in more than twenty countries and on behalf of ten organizations: Médecins sans frontières, Médecins du monde, Unicef, Action contre la Faim, the French Red Cross, International SOS …

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