In sickness & in Health

Before I moved in Africa in 2011, the only people close to me who I’d lost (passed away- not wandered off in a drunken haze, because there were plenty of those) were my grandparents. Then my childhood friends’ mother who I was close to. That’s it. Since moving here, I seriously cannot keep track of how many people we (as a couple) have lost. We have lost family, friends, parents of sponsored kids, a head teacher, associates, acquaintances, new born babies, mothers in childbirth and two of our sponsored kids. That’s 2 kids who have died in 6 years. How can that be normal? Dear Alpha Omar aged only 5. Killed while playing on a stack of concrete blocks after only being in school a year. And my girl, Isatou MRC who never stood a chance with congenital heart failure, and finally lost her battle to live in March 2017. R.I.P little ones.

Isatou and ‘Mirrow’
RIP Omar

Serey gave birth prematurely a year ago. They released her from the “private clinic” despite the baby being 5 weeks premature. He passed away in her arms within hours of taking him home. Two weeks ago, another family member gave birth to their first child in a Government hospital. With no ventilator, to assist the breathing of the struggling baby, he passed away in the hospital. The same week, a neighbour died in childbirth, along with the baby. And this is happening all over Gambia every day to thousands of mothers. Private or Government it is all the same. Poorly trained medics with outdated, limited equipment and a careless attitude in my experience, never mind the filth! Partially why we try and assist the health centers and hospitals where we can.

Then there’s enemy number 1: Anopheles Gambiae Mosquito

These demon blood suckers carry a parasite which causes Plasmodium Falciparum malaria. Africans have a disproportionately high share of the global malaria problem. According to the latest WHO estimates, released in December 2016, there were 212 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 429 000 deaths. In 2015 Africa had 90% of all malaria cases and 92% of deaths (WHO).

Malaria: Africa’s number one killer of children. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa- Gambia is a sub-Saharan country.

Although it was Malaria that finally killed our dear girl, her immune system, heart and lungs were so compromised by the congenital heart disease she never stood a chance. The sole reason she made it to 13 years old, is because a group of extra special sponsors clubbed together to help fund her medical care and provide nutritious food each month. You see there are many ways you can help, it is not restricted to sponsoring a kid for school.

During my time here I have lost count how many times Sol has had malaria. The dangerous type twice, necessitating immediate treatment. One of our sets of orphans became orphans under Islam after their dad left the mother while she was pregnant with her younger child, the “father” moving to a neighbouring country where he’s never been heard from again. The mother went on to contract Falciparum malaria herself when her kids were 3 and 5. After a couple of week of poor health-care and misdiagnosis, she was admitted into Tanka Tanka (the only mental facility) where they believed she was suffering from a mental illness instead of Malaria. She died the same week. Falciparum mimics mental health diseases as the disease attacks the brain. P. falciparum is the most prevalent malaria parasite on the African continent. It is responsible for most malaria-related deaths globally. Symptoms usually appear 10–15 days after the infected mosquito bite. The first symptoms – fever, headache, and chills– may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. If not treated within 24 hours, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness, often leading to death.

Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous of the four human malaria parasites. It is the most effective malaria vector – the mosquito Anopheles gambiae – is the most widespread in Africa and the most difficult to control. Malaria is notoriously difficult to diagnose, symptoms often mimicking other illnesses like the Flu, colds and so on. To get tested one should attend either a private clinic and pay or attend a Government hospital, queue most of the day and still must pay a nominal D50 (£1). Then buy the medicine, which is charged by the tablet not the box or X number of days’ supply as in England. In cases of P. falciparum this includes an injection in the butt over three consecutive days, n addition to oral tablets. And from personal experience, both Ginger and Sol can attest this is no ordinary injection. It creates a whole level of pain due to the ingredients affecting not only the malaria parasites it is designed to kill but other physiological functions. Painful.

Most of our kids have had Malaria at some point. One day we found Babou semi-conscious with an extreme fever lying in his house. He needed the intra-muscular injections and was treated just in time. If it hadn’t been for his sponsor, Babou would be another child mortality statistic. The WHO campaign against malaria do and have donated untreated free mosquito nets across Gambia and other African countries. However, since 2014 I cannot find any data relating to free mosquito nets. What baffles us is this; if these nets are given away for free, why do our families not have them? It could be the distribution is not advertised in the right language on the right media. Or the queues are too long. Or they have never heard of it, as we had not heard of it. Either way, impregnated nets have been shown to be the best defense against malaria. The chemical to impregnate these nets is not available in Gambia. We source ours in the UK and bring with us annually on our return.

Before coming to Africa, while still “in the job” I experienced a burst appendix, 2 broken ankles and 1 torn tendon. The latter bone and tendon injuries related to long nights out in high heels and tall drinks. Since being in Africa I have contracted leprosy-NOT the real version but antibiotic resistant infection from the dirt, causing pseudo porphyria, an auto immune disease caused by the infection, aggravated by people treading my her feet when out doing donations and then in early 2017 Leptospirosis, (which was initially diagnosed as Malaria) which evolved into Weils disease and now 2 ruptured lumbar vertebrae. The pics below of not for the weak stomached!

Pretty grim huh! All from a scratch in the African dirt….

Despite all the germs, virus’s, disease, infections, vermin and just plain accidents, Africa has so much to offer in terms of emotional strength, strong sense of community, love thy neighbour, sharing of food, water and childcare. It is difficult to describe but I once lived in a small cul-de-sac of approx. 60 houses. I knew the names of 3 of the residents in that road. Other than these 3, no one said hello each morning, No one came to push your car if it failed to start. No one came to share their food because you hadn’t anything to feed your kids. No one took your children into their homes without being CRB checked to give you a break. No one had any concerns about their neighbours were secret pedophiles. No one shared their water or bathroom facility with you when your water was off or an accident meant you couldn’t shower. These are an integral part of Gambian life. No one cares which tribe or ethnicity you come from. No one cares which religion you practice. Muslims and Christians live side by side. Maybe several generations ago some of these community ties existed in pockets of communities in the UK. Perhaps there are tiny villages where some of these still exist today.

This photo shows food being served for neighbours; regardless of tribal affiliation, ethnicity, religion. As long as they all like chili ketchup!

Trying to recall the number of fatalities over the time we have been running skoolz4kids is so hard, as there have been so many. We are sorry to say some may have been temporarily forgotten. A big shock was the loss of a head-teacher due to a confidential illness and TB. Last year it was my Gambian Papa. When we married I was given a Gambian Papa to deal with any matrimonial problems our marriage may have. The closest thing to a Gambian relative we lost him in 2016 to TB. One of our sponsored girls lost her mum to TB over 3 years ago now. Ami B lost her dad not long after our wedding and her mum last year, leaving her an orphan. Anta lost her mum when she was 12, just after her mother gave birth. Khadiatou S lost her mum earlier this month along with her sponsor, her death could be caused by any tropical disease. Modou T lost his mum and now lives with his grandma. With no money to afford private clinics and local hospitals ill equipped and poorly trained staff, people often resort to “black medicine”. Thousands of years of handed down herbal medicine used to treat all manner of illness and injury. Often there is scientific basis to arange of these, with the old malaria treatment of quinine coming from a tree where people pick leaves, boil them and drink the bitter juice to treat malaria. Quinine used to treat Malaria since the 1800’s comes from the bark of the Cinchona tree.

African ladies shredding and selling local herbs for medicinal use.
A Drumstick or Maringa tree in bloom

Gambians also pick leaves from the “Never die” tree and use the leaves and bark for medicinal purposes. Western opportunists are reaping this and marketing it as “Moringa” and quadrupling the costs and exploiting the benefits while the Africans communities see nothing.

Our family. Not by marriage, religion or blood, but by community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger

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