december 9, 2008

It’s now five days since the WFP (World Food Program, you may as well get used to the abbreviations) helicopter dropped me off at the airstrip, and the first working week in Serif Umra is coming to a close. Needless to say, the time runs by quicker than you realize. The crew here has graciously allowed me to take my time to aimlessly run around, trying to orientate
myself, learn names and stalk whoever seems to be up to something interesting. In a few days Laura, the coordinating nutritionist, more commonly known as the Flying Nut (really, a title to be jealous of), will leave the dispensary and see to some of the other MSF projects here in Darfur.

The therapeutic feeding centre will then be left under my supervision, and consequently I’m mostly following her to learn how things run. I go about it with much respect. Some three years of nurse work in Sweden has naturally left me with little or no grasp of malnutrition, or even paediatrics. Here,overseeing the work and quality of care for these little ones in the feeding centre will be one of the main responsibilities. So I’m following, taking every opportunity to listen in as Laura coaches the local staff or does the round in the inpatient department. I couldn’t imagine a more profound way ofproviding health care, and indeed, the care for the malnourished and dehydrated children is likely to be the source of both my greatest satisfaction and my greatest frustration during the time here. Lack of food and clean water pulls away the foundation for every other area of life, and while it may seem nothing is easier to address than this, nothing tears your heart like watching a child die from something so easily prevented.

This week I’ve also seen my first case of tetanus in a newborn. Again, tetanus is easily prevented through vaccination and through proper hygiene and care of the umbilical cord after birth. Still, it’s not uncommon here and fatal in almost 80 percent of the cases. Once it hits, it causes spasms in all the muscles of the body, and the only thing you can do in this setting is try to feed the child through a tube to the stomach, then wait and hope for the best. Our little treasure in the paediatric ward is still hanging in there. Maybe we’re lucky enough to see this one wear off. In the meantime, we go about our work to try and provide a basic level of care to this population. If nothing else, this is primary health care.

I feel privileged to be here.