Shocks to the System

Every now and then something just corners you out of the blue. For me here it was a normal midweek afternoon soon after I arrived. I was alone at our base at the Wamura health centre, busy organising things, with the medical team all off in an outlying village doing their screening, admission and treatment program. The first of the 10 truck convoys had arrived, been unloaded and left the evening before, which I guess would have been talk of town and a front page advertisement for our program. I noticed more mothers and babies hanging around mid morning than usual. By midday when I walked out of the office, I was greeted with fifty or sixty children, with fifty or sixty mothers eyes on me.

Malnutrition here is surprising in that it is not immediately apparent. The fields and hills are green and beautiful, and people generally look poor, but well and happy. So much so that up to this point the whole project had a surreal feel for me. Working my way around the crowd that had gathered outside that day though was a shock to the system. All fitted the magazine article photo stereotype of small, weak, helpless, malnourished children. I couldn't bring myself to send them all off and so moved around everyone myself separating out the red MUAC kids (a quick measure of the mean upper arm circumference that indicates severe malnutrition), and sending the others back home to return on our organised clinic date in a few days time.

I also got a stock of drink and food ready for the medical team for when they returned tired and exhausted from their day out, and the patient plumpynut treatment boxes all at the ready for distribution. Luckily when Florence, Cameron, Damien arrived back they were more than up to the task, and like a well oiled machine we together screened, admitted into the program and distributed treatment for 47 patients that evening before night fell.

It felt good to be able to see and touch and talk and smile with little ones who had previously been only existed as numbers on my excel food spreadsheet.

The more recent eye opening moments have all involved burns. With little medical care available even the most basic of burns can be very serious. Here in the last three days I seen the horrific result of burns to a child's arm which had swelled and become infected. Then at Lasho a two month old baby with an amazing burn to whole side of her little scalp. It had occurred several weeks before and she was doing well. It was amazing that she had survived such an injury. I can only hope that the last of my encounters of the week does as well, a poor kid with the exact same injury, the distort mother seeking me out for help, the smell of burnt skin and hair filling my little logistics office. Perhaps she had been laid too close to the fire, I'll never know.


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