Arun is my favourite. I know I shouldn’t have favourites but he brightens my day. He sometimes has no idea what’s going on but when I take my time and explain and that wonderful smile lights up all over his face, like a teenager that’s just understood calculus, I feel so proud of him.
But then I’m particularly fond of Manahil too. She missed the first day of training and I was uneasy about allowing her to join the teams but within an hour she got it, better than most of the others, she is so bright. And she’s a woman. If men are poorly educated here, it’s worse for women. With the right opportunities, she probably would’ve made a great epidemiologist!
But then there’s Abdul Aziz, strolling in, dressed in his red England tracksuit, oozing cool. And of course Mohammed Issa who has a claw foot and struggles to walk, but that won’t stop him from contributing to his team. I could talk about the outreach workers all day. Asha, the lovely shy one, with no time for nonsense, Benjamin and Domach with their interesting tribal scars, Abi and Lia who might be a bit sweet on each other. But of course I adore Timoty and Anur our indispensable translators. They volunteered to work like everyone else but turned out to have some English language skills which is difficult to find here. So we’re holding them close.
I love this part, getting to know the outreach teams and the communities. It’s the best part of being an epidemiologist (epi). The rest of the MSF team have to become quite focussed on the hospital and clinic waiting rooms and wards, the supply room and logistics, water sources or overall coordination. But the epis can sometimes be the eyes and ears to the community.
We go into the villages, finding out what’s going on at a population level. Like today we saw people taking water from shallow pools, highly likely to be polluted but when water is this scarce and the queues for the taps are this long, I guess you can understand the decision. Actually we saw a fight break out at one of the water sources. The queue was incredibly long and there was tension between women (as it’s almost always women that collect water) that were deemed to be jumping the queue. There are additional tensions due to women from neighbouring villages looking for water.
We’ve also identified psychiatric patients in the community. Yesterday we saw a woman shouting and giggling and running around. Her child had recently died and this was her reaction. We advised her family to bring her to the MSF clinic. MSF tries to integrate psychosocial counselling and psychiatric treatment into our outpatient services. Today we identified another psychiatric patient being gently restrained by a neighbour. Luckily the MSF health manager, a nurse, had joined us for the day so she was able to diagnose a possible psychosis and we brought him to the hospital. Apparently the first signs appeared after fleeing the fighting in Blue Nile and he could potentially have post-traumatic stress disorder. I wonder how many more such patients we’ll see in the communities.