For Poor in Africa, Health Care Remains a Daunting Hurdle

Nyanchama Oyunge September 29, 2014

health care in africa

Gwaro closed the album and pushed it aside. Just then, there was a loud knock on the bedroom door. Whoever it was shouldn’t have bothered to knock at all for she did not wait for a response. It was Maria, her daughter. “Why have you been crying?” Indeed, Gwaro was surprised to see in the mirror in front of her two lines on either side of her face. Her eyes were red too. She could not deny it. She looked too obvious.

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Gwaro looked at Maria. She had grown a great deal lately, and she looked older than her 13 years. Her daughter was happy, so she decided not to crash her world.

“I’m OK, my dear. I had been cutting onions before I came here.”

It was a lie for an answer but still an answer to get her daughter away. Gwaro had been looking at the album of her wedding photos and the short life that she and George had spent together. It was sad that George had gone to the grave early.

It felt like just the other day when they had exchanged the vows…”for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” Then soon after, their union was blessed and Maria was the first fruit of her womb, then Obed soon after, then Steve.

Maria and Obed grew like all other children. Steve was different, though. He was born in the hospital alright, but it was as if something was always amiss: at 3 months, his head started growing faster than the other parts of his body. Naturally, Gwaro and George were alarmed. They took him to a dispensary…and so he was treated and discharged home on oral medication.

This happens to all of us who are poor.

Society defines the type of food we eat, the type of houses we live in, the means of transport we use, and even the type of services we get. When we get sick — because we cannot go to real hospitals with enough resources, because we cannot pay the staggering amounts to get standard health care, because the sophisticated diagnostic tests are too expensive beyond our abilities and money and power — we are misdiagnosed. Our illnesses are never treated or are simply undertreated.

And who should we blame?

The doctors? Certainly not. They do their best working tirelessly even when the returns are too little to write home about, sacrificing family time to be with patients even if to give hope only, constantly inhaling the air in underventilated hospital wards even with the knowledge that the mycobacteria that causes tuberculosis is airborne, risking lives by staying close to psychiatric patients who have been labeled dangerous to the general public, performing surgeries upon surgeries with their only separation from the deadly virus being thin gloves that could give in at any moment.

Doctors continue giving hope to others, even though they are often the bearer of bad news, trying to explain how they did their best to ungrateful relatives….

Once again my government has failed. They built hospitals in the cities and in the villages, but the dispensaries are ill-equipped, understaffed, and mismanaged…a dispensary with only five workers to serve a population of thousands of people with a pharmacy that is only equipped with antimalarials even in non-malaria endemic areas.
My Steve was treated for malaria when he really had hydrocephalus…hydrocephalus….
we waited for the drugs to work because we trusted the government even with our lives. But day after day, his condition got worse, even with the strict adherence to drugs. So for our poverty, we got the diagnosis after the first year of life when all the signs were evident.

This is when I got to know that Steve would be a special child. That I would forever wait for him to achieve the developmental milestones: he had smiled at the age of 2 months, but he did not sit up at 6 months, and I kept waiting for him to topple, to coo, to say,”Mama,” and “Baba,” but instead his head kept growing and growing.

I kept slipping in and out of the hospital and he kept taking drugs and drugs. At 1 year and six months, he went in for a surgery. It was a difficult decision to reach, and I had no one to consult. My relatives were tired already and it was six months after George had rested the eternal rest, and so I was alone, a widow at the age of 30 with three children and one who was special….

I had a job as a matron in a school. I was lucky they understood my needs, but my life was more than a struggle every time I prayed that my child may live and be normal: be able to talk, to play, to call me “ma’am.”

For nine years I sought a miracle, but every time I glanced at my baby, my faith declined. I knew it would somehow be forever. That every year he would be admitted about eight times, and even so, the convulsions would never go away, not permanently.

That he would always have to take meningitis prophylaxis, and even with the shunt in situ, his head would remain disproportionately large, that his arms and legs would forever remain thin as cooking sticks, that he would never grow taller than his usual 80 cm, and as long as he lived he would never ask. His life would be but one tragedy after another and is not dying but life that fails to fulfill its potential?

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Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: September 29, 2014


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