Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Health Clinics" at the schools

Last week I took two retired Swazi nurses to do a mini health clinic at five of the Methodist schools in the Central Circuit. Thanks to Dennis Little, a Volunteer in Mission who resides in the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist church in the United States, a grant from the National Childrens Home out of the United Kingdom has been given to the schools of the Methodist Church in the Central Circuit. The grant provides funds to allow the Central Circuit to help the schools identify children that are likely to be HIV+ because of their situation or health concerns. The ultimate goal is early detection of the disease, to get the children on ARVs as soon as possible and assist in other areas related to the care of the HIV+ children, especially those who are orphaned or who come from destitute families.

In order to get a better idea of what we would find in the schools, and what approach should be taken to implement the grant, we determined that we should visit the schools and see the children. We didn’t want to go to the schools, ask who was sick with what and not have anything to help the situation, so we went to perform a “health clinic.” The OVCs (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children) that were “sick” on the day we visited the school lined up to see the nurse. After a short interview with the child, basic over-the-counter medications were provided to the child if appropriate. The nurses saw a total of 253 students; 116 were at one school! Most of the children had abdominal pains which could have been attributed to the flu but the cause was most likely worms. Other conditions included ring worms, chest pain/coughing, Flu and a condition called Bilharzia which is a parasite that comes swimming, bathing, urinating or even coming in contact with water from infected rivers. Bilharzia is also known as snail’s disease. Basically the parasite enters the bloodstream and grows in the blood in the liver. Next to Malaria, Bilharzia is the second most dangerous and preventable parasitic disease found in Africa and other tropical countries. Bilharzia causes poor growth, cognitive dysfunction, anemia, bladder and liver disease and premature death. Bilharzia is preventable and symptoms can be reversed with an annual dose of a pill that now costs about 18 cents apiece. We did not have this medication. There were various other suspected conditions such as severe asthma, mumps, chicken pox, TB as well as the lesser complaints such as ear aches, toothaches, allergies, etc. We saw many children that were very small for their age and we saw 6 or 7 children that had already been diagnosed to be HIV+ and were on ARV medication.

These visits also gave me a chance to visit the schools and learn more about the educational needs of the school. The remaining schools will be visited over the next couple of weeks. As time goes on, I will introduce you to the schools that I have not already written about.

These visits were no different from everything else here in Swaziland. There were very hard parts and there were bright spots. It was hard to see the children and know that they were really not going to be treated for their illnesses, but they would receive a “band aide” for their condition. The condition of the schools would be unacceptable in the US. However, the smiles of the children were precious and I met some teachers who had dreams of making a difference at their school. One teacher has dreams of starting a library complete which a reading corner for small ones (because “little ones like to lay down as they read”) and tables so older children could do small research papers. I don’t know how that would be possible, but the enthusiasm and dream was certainly a highlight of the day.

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