Sunday, November 28, 2010

Health update

A word about my health and other health topics

I was doing fine health-wise until a couple of weeks ago when I picked up a water born parasite called giardia that gives one nasty cramps and other intestinal distress. I was going to Ouaga for a check of some skin spots anyway, but went a day early when I found I was hot, not just because it was 90 degrees or so but because I was running a fever. They kept me there for 10 days, which was a good thing because I lost more weight and was feeling tired all the time. The Peace Corps takes very good care of our medical problems. The dermatologist assured me that the places on my skin I thought might be a problem were not, and I regained my appetite so now I am back at my site and feeling fine. That is also the reason I was fortunate enough to be in Ouaga for Tabaski. Now on to health issues for the locals.

I have been going to the local maternal health center twice a week to “help” (mostly to get in the way and scare the babies) with the baby weighing. All of the babies born in the town are supposed to come once a month to be weighed and to be vaccinated at the appropriate times. Vaccinations of various kinds are free to the people who bring in their babies, but not all babies come in on the proper schedule. The mothers have a little booklet in which the midwife made notes about the pregnancy. After the baby is born his or her name is added to the book and a record is made of the baby’s weight each month. We have a book that stays in the center that lists each baby born in the town. When the mother brings the baby in, the official worker, who can speak Moore, checks the mother's book to see the baby is there on the right day, has the mother put the baby on the scale, and records in the mother’s book both the weight and whether the baby’s weight is > 100%, > 90%, > 80%, >70% of the expected weight for a child that age. If the baby is 70% or less of the expected weight, the baby gets an examination by the “sage femme” that is, wise woman, or midwife, and the mother gets a consultation about the baby’s problems. The mother is then supposed to bring the child back weekly to keep track of progress and for the midwife to talk further with the mother about better nutrition. Some of these kids are easy to spot at the health service. Often they have reddish hair and a very swollen belly, along with very thin arms and legs.

Up the road a bit is a medical center connected to the Catholic Church where I went for the wedding of my community homalogue's daughter. I met one of the nuns at the wedding, who happens to be American, and she gave me a tour of the facility. They treat severely malnourished babies there, but their main mission is to teach mothers how to make a nourishing baby cereal by combining ingredients they can easily obtain in their villages. For example, cereal that combines a grain, such as corn or millet, with either beans or peanuts, will provide a complete protein for the baby.

This Sister goes out on her moto to visit remote villages that are too far away for most people to be able to bring the children in. She has trained someone in each village to take a simple tape measure and measure the upper arm of each child under 5 in the village. The area of the tape that measures the smallest circumference is red, the next yellow and the rest green. If the arm measurement falls in the red or yellow area, chances are the child is malnourished. She visits the villages every three months for a year, weighs the children, and talks with the group of mothers whose children have been identified as being malnourished. For people who live closer, she tries to get mothers to come to the center to learn how to prepare more nutritious food. There is a big room at the center, with lots of openings to the outside air, in which there are wood burning “stoves” where the mothers cook as they would at home. They also make bags of the cereal with they give or sell, I am not sure which, to the mothers. This seems like a very fine program.

Government Health Care
I have mentioned the maternity and baby part of the government supported health service, but I should say there is another building where people with health problems can come for consultations and prescriptions, and there is a dispensary for giving out drugs. I am pretty sure there is a charge for this service because people have tried to get me to give them medicine for some kind of problem. We were warned this might happen and given strict orders never to share our medications with others so I have to tell them, “No, I am not a doctor or nurse and I have been forbidden to give out any drugs.”

There is a real problem with polio in Africa and there is a big push to get all children immunized. In November there was a big country wide campaign to get all the children under 5 immunized, regardless of whether they had already been immunized or not. The idea is that, if all children are immunized it will be possible to end this epidemic.

In the town near me, and in other towns I believe, there are centers for handicapped people. Many of these folks have problems with their legs and they get around on big tricycles. The peddles have been placed up by the handle bars and they “peddle” with their hands. Some of them can move pretty quickly. There are also folks who have to use a crutch, like the guy in my favorite little store. They create original arts and crafts or work as tailors, or at other jobs that do not require a lot of moving around or strength. I believe most of these folks are polio survivers, but there are probably other reason for the handicaps.

More on the neem tree
I had the name wrong for that tooth brushing tree. The tree is the neem tree, known in its native India as the tree of 40 because it is said to cure 40 diseases, according to Wikipedia. It is apparently good for more than just cleaning teeth. Check out the article if you are interested in all the things it is supposed to be good for that have not been substantiated. They claim it is drought resistant and evergreen. We shall see about that in the spring when it is really hot and dry.

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