May 02, 2005

Eye-opening visit

(alternative title “Everything I learned in Public Health was True”)

Day Four
Location: Kalomba
Date: 04/29/05
Hours of Driving: 5

I am woken up 5:30 bells ringing and a 6:30 mass. The choral sounds beautiful but I am frankly exhausted from the traveling and the early rising.

We visit the Hospital of the Region, which looks exactly like was I was told in my Public Health Classes. The waiting room is sparse with one bench to lean on, the patients’ room has metal spring beds with no mattress or sheets, the pharmacy is severly understocked—my mother almost has more medicine in her cabinet than that—, they operate on a $500 medication budget for a population of about 110,000 people, the laboratory where HIV and malaria are detected in the blood consists of a room with a few reagents (I had more solutions for my experiments as an intern at the NIH than the entire hospital has).

We visit the maternity where a young mother has just given birth. The nurse wants to be helpful and explain her register to us but the doctor in our health team begs her to take care of the newborn first (the baby still had afterbirth in his throat and mouth, he’s struggling to breath).

We also visit a Centre de Santé in a village, preceded by a short visit to the Village Chief. He is flattered by our visit and implores me to take a good look at the centre and to provide more financing to the village (we are a team of about 12, but he assumes I am in charge of it). The center is shocking: out of date medicines are kept for months, solutions are diluted with unsterile syringes, the traditional birth attendant doesn’t clean the gloves she uses to help the birthing method, she doesn’t even speak French. The doctor in our team tells us that the pharmacist prescribes tension lowering drugs when a patient’s tension is already alarmingly low, and he sprinkles a white powder in “tropical wounds” when he should be diluting the solution with clean water and injecting it with a syringe.

A pregnant woman calling me “Maman” asks the only camera man in the village to take two pictures of us looking like chums. There is a photo of me floating around in a small village deep in the Congo shaking the hand of a grinning very pregnant woman.

That night, I have nightmares of Public Health Projects gone horribly wrong.

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