Saturday, November 14, 2015

Our malnourished patients

A sad reality in Kalukembe, AO and other parts of the world is the persistent problem of malnutrition. When young children suffer, it affects me even more. Starvation in children has complex physical and social origins, including cultural beliefs about breastfeeding, interactions with other diseases, attitudes to certain foods, poverty, etc. But the end result is the same to me: it's sad, it sucks and it shouldn't exist. At Kalukembe, there historically was a program that helped mothers of children with malnutrition grow certain high-protein crops and taught them how to maintain healthy diets for their families using the local milieu. Then up till about 2 years ago, an international and government-supported program using pre-made supplements and formulas was in effect. Now, we are back to offering little to these children outside of medicines and advice about what to buy in the market. These children often need hospital stays of around a month, so this is a financial burden most families are unable or  unwilling to make.

Our "results," predictably, are poor. We are looking and praying for ways to restore health in these children, and we hope we will at least approach a lasting solution that would be a part of restoring the well-being of our entire community here in Kalukembe.

Here are two children's stories that bring me hope, and remind me of one of my favorite Psalms:
"[The Lord] raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap.
He seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people. " 
(from Psalm 113)

B. is 5 and arrived after months of weight loss and fevers. His mother died the year before; his father never met him; and so his uncle took responsibility and brought him to us for help. His underlying diagnosis was not difficult to make: tuberculosis that had spread through his whole body. But he struggled to eat or find anything that we recommended his uncle to try for several weeks. After losing even more weight, he finally stopped vomiting, started walking again and left our ward smiling and waving.

J is the baby boy on photo right. He is 4 months old here and came weeks earlier with his mother, who eventually died from suspect metastatic cancer. He struggled with sepsis and severe dehydration; then his new mother (also with an 8-month-old girl) came and like a mother hen began looking after him around the clock. Through mostly her care and love, he is feeding again and home in loving arms!

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