25 May

Visiting CompassioNow Clinics

On our trip to Africa in November 2011, we visited the Tanzania Christian Clinic in Monduli.  Dr Danny Smelser and his wife Nancy were on leave in the US, so we were hosted by Dr. Bob and Annette Whittaker, who have spent many years working in Africa, specifically Nigeria. 

The clinic was not very busy that day, but the two cases we saw up close and personal were heartbreaking, both involving precious 3 year old boys that were severely malnourished.  The first little Massai boy we saw was brought to the clinic by his alcoholic father, who broke down in tears in front of us as he was talking to the staff, because his wife had left him.  He had 6 children, and had gotten 5 of them back.  This little boy was the youngest, and he obviously could not fight for what little food they had.  The father had lost everything due to alcoholism, and did not have money for food.  This little boy weighed 10 kilos (22 pounds) and was in the “gray” zone for malnutrition for his age.  He was so quiet and apathetic.  It was very hard to watch.  He had what looked like a burn on his foot, and was swollen with edema (a sign of kwashiorkor).  Clinical officer David and Nurse Salina did what they could, and Lab Tech Esther gave him some blood tests.  While he waited for the results, I gave the little boy a blow up beach ball and small packet of fruit snacks I had in my purse, which he happily ate (this was a good sign, but I hope it didn’t make him sick). 

While David and Dr. Bob and Salina were attending to this little boy, I noticed an elderly woman laying outside of the clinic on the grass with a small child who was very dirty.  Next to them was a filthy yellow jug which looked like it could have once been used for cooking oil, but they were using it to drink water (I wonder just how clean that water could have been).  We went outside to see this little child.  This child looked way sicker than the first little boy, and much more malnourished.  His little legs were pencil thin, with what appeared to be an oversized head for his little body.

It turned out this little boy was an orphan, and was being raised by his grandmother. Upon examining the child, it was found that he only weighed 8 kilos (17 pounds), and so he was in the “red zone” for malnutrition (severe).  Esther performed the blood tests and it was found that he also had malaria and was severely anemic.  I had some crackers in my purse which I tried to give to him, but he just pushed it away and cried.  He sat on the grass and just stared and whimpered softly.  I know how active little 3 year old boys should be, so this was again pitiful to watch. Peninah the pharmacist gave him a shot of quinine for the malaria, which we hope will help heal him so he will want to eat.

It turned out the grandmother was very poor and had no goats or cows to sell to buy food for this little boy. Dr. David told us that there are no feeding centers for malnourished children in that part of Tanzania, so his prognosis was poor for recovery.  My heart went out to his grandmother so we gave her some money to buy food for him (even though he probably would not be able to eat). I asked the grandmother through the interpreter what his name was.  It turned out it was Yohanna (Jonah in Massai).  At that point I began to weep, because Johanna is my daughter Stina’s middle name.  It was a confirmation to me that I should help this family that was struggling. The grandmother was so grateful and gave me several hugs.  We had our picture taken together, and then we had to leave the clinic.  The bond was formed between us as mothers. 

Malnutrition kills 5 million children every year…one child every 6 seconds. Even though Tanzania Christian Clinic is not equipped to save these severely malnourished children, it is a refuge for the Massai people to come to for help.  Sadly, Dr. Bob told us that they often wait until it is too late before they bring in their sick ones.

I am praying that little Yohanna will live.

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