Balochistan has some of the poorest health indicators in the country and some of the highest illiteracy rates. As part of our work, we are not only treating patients with medical issues but also improving the health knowledge of our staff and the community through various teaching methods. Last week I was able to assist in the delivery of an emergency training course for 18 staff members. The course ran over three days and consisted of theoretical and practical sessions. We incorporated the local MSF doctors for teaching and translation. The training was a success and the staff left with a few more skills than when they arrived. It’s nice to think that even after we have left, the knowledge and experience that they have gained will remain.
I want to share another story of a young boy who was brought into the clinic by his father. ‘Anwar’, a small boy of about two years of age was having a seizure and was carried into the clinic by his father. He was placed on the table and given oxygen while the doctor inserted an IV line, the nurse took his blood sugar and I checked his vitals. The seizure stopped and the boy’s respiration rate immediately dropped, so I started breathing for him through a bag and mask. When he stopped breathing altogether and we could not find a pulse, full CPR was performed and after about a minute, the boy took a single breath by himself. This would be his last breath. Continued efforts to revive the boy were unsuccessful. Anwar was taken to a private area with his family to mourn.
It amazed me how quickly this child deteriorated; it must have been no more than a minute from the time he was brought in to the time his breathing stopped. The staff reacted quickly and professionally; some of them had received training on this scenario the previous week. After the incident I found out from his parents that Anwar had been sick for some weeks and the family lived out of town, far away from any comprehensive medical treatment. If his family had been able to bring him in earlier to the hospital, instead of taking him to a private clinic first, we may have been able to save him.
It made me think that if this child had been born in Australia, he would probably still be alive. He would have been able to receive free, timely medical care. So much of our fate is determined by where we happen to be born.
The ones who don’t make it obviously leave an imprint in your memory and can make it hard to stay positive. Sometimes I need to step back and look at the number of children recovering and gaining weight. At each MSF site we see hundreds of children a week and almost all of them finish a full treatment cycle without concern. Some children need to be admitted to the inpatient ward for closer monitoring and most of these are also discharged.
It is heart-wrenching to see a helpless, starving child brought in with barely enough energy to lift its own head. However, it is amazing to see that same child a week or two later smiling, laughing and eating again. We take no money for services; that child’s smile is priceless.