Ten years of development work, and this week marked my first visit to an African health care clinic. The waiting room was tiny, tight, and filled with weary anxiety. The bottom line being that, despite my own excitement, the women and children in here were in attendance simply because they did not feel well. Some worse than others. But knowing smiles spread between benches when a baby cried, comfort offered for both the mother and her little one. Our camera's flash brought brief respite as the baby wondered where the flash came from in the dim room—curiosity winning the moment over discomfort and suspicion.
Outside on the tiny concrete porch, a mother waited with her four-month-old son. He had been suffering from diarrhea at home and she didn't want to risk it growing worse. While she waits for a nurse, she breastfeeds. Posters behind her tout rotavirus vaccines and handwashing with soap. She pulls his skin to check for dehydration. Does it spring back or remain stretched, slowly sinking back in place? Her simple practices, plus the encouraging messages surrounding her, tell me that she has been educated on measures of prevention, symptoms to look for, as well as the continued feeding that will be essential as she tries to spare her son from severe illness.
Consistent education is a pillar of clinical care in this facility and others throughout Kafue District in Zambia. From pregnancy through conclusion of routine childhood immunization at around nine months, mothers visiting the clinic learn about sanitation and hygiene, breastfeeding, immunization, and more. Community health workers carry these lifesaving messages into the local villages. They not only educate their peers, they are village members themselves—resources that are available to families all day, every day.
As we drove away, stories captured for the day, children waved and shouted “Bye -bye” to see us off. The gracious and generous nature of the community, including those in the clinic frankly not having the best of days, will stay with me. I am fortunate, so grateful, to have the chance to witness firsthand their quite determination to give their children a safe and protected start at life.
-- Deborah Phillips is Communications Officer for defeatDD at PATH
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Photo credits: PATH/Gareth Bentley