Failed by the System

A few weeks ago, while monitoring latrine construction, I came across a very sick child.  Standing naked in the doorway of the house, he gazed at me through puffy, slitted eyes. His stomach was severely protruded and his breathing labored, coming as short wheezes through a grating cough.  Not being able to communicate well with the family, I asked the assemblyman to assist me in determining the next step in helping this child.  Upon inquiry about his medical history, the grandmother told us that he had been in and out of the hospital several times.  Each time, they gave him a blood transfusion and sent him home.  She suggested we ask the mother directly…same answer. It seems that no one had any idea what was wrong with him or how to go about solving the problem.  The assemblyman knew a doctor at a hospital in a neighboring district, so I took them there personally the next day.

The doctor had agreed to come in on a Sunday, so after a long and dusty tro ride, we arrived at the hospital and were seen right away.  The nurses took his vitals and he was examined by the doctor.  His liver and spleen were both enlarged and he showed signs of anemia.  The doctor suspected some sort of infection, so he was admitted to the hospital for tests. I left them with money for food and transportation and took the doctor’s number so I could follow up the next day.  After all was said and done, all of his health problems were being caused by malnutrition, both in lack of calories and protein.

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Normally, the hospital gives a substance called “plumpy nut” to malnutrition cases, looking to boost daily intake of calories and protein.  Unfortunately, this hospital did not have any on hand when they released the child, and suggested they find it elsewhere.  I inquired at the clinic in Eremon and the hospital in Lawra to no avail.  Everything they had was expired, and the region had not yet supplied the district with new stores of plumpy nut.

Normally, the “African time” people talk about here is nothing more than an annoyance, resulting in last meetings and long travel days.  This is a situation in which I have absolutely no patience for it.  Delaying the restocking of a product needed to combat malnutrition in children is unacceptable, and it leaves me with a dilemma.  My ideology has always been to help people to help themselves, teach them how to do things, assist them in gaining access to services they have a right to.  I have tried to do just that, simply to be failed by Ghana’s health system.  This child is not the only one suffering from malnutrition, and I cannot buy food for every hungry child in Eremon, as much as I would like to do so. How responsible am I for this child’s life, and what more can I do? I feel responsible.