June 2017


June 2017

June 23rd- Hands for Hope

Our first week is over and tomorrow we’re moving on to a new venture. It’s my task to write about our last day with the children at Hands for Hope. It will be hard to stick to 500 words as there are so many thoughts and emotions rushing through my head.

I’d like to tell you about a little boy we met yesterday. I’ll call him Daniel to protect his identity. Daniel is 4 years old and had previously been identified as a possible candidate for sponsorship at Hands for Hope. The group, along with the H4H social worker went to visit Daniel and his mother in the slum community in Kampala.

I’m actually not going to talk about the impoverished conditions in which little Daniel lives with his mother, father and older brother. Since he lives in the slums, that goes without saying. What I’m going to talk about is his physical health and the impact that witnessing a little boy with some serious health issues that can’t be adequately dealt with, has had on me and the others in our group.

As soon as I saw Daniel it was clear that he had significant neurological impairment and needed some urgent medical investigations. He had a constant facial twitch and right sided twitching with a dystonic right arm. His voice and speech were also affected and he walked with an unsteady gait.

I got a medical history from his mother, who reported that he was a normal boy until last December when he had a febrile illness for a week. He had no other symptoms; no cough, cold, diarrhoea or vomiting. It was after this fever that the neurological symptoms developed. He also appeared to have a tonic seizure while we were visiting and his mother said that these were a common occurrence.

Daniel’s mother said that she had taken her son to a medical centre but that the doctors there wanted to scan his brain and she had no money so she left and did not return. It can be very hard to get a clear medical history from parents such as Daniel’s. Usually lacking in education, and trying to survive on meagre amounts of money and food makes life very hard and makes focusing on anything else difficult. Additionally, there are cultural issues which make understanding disease and diagnosis challenging. Daniel’s mother had no records of the previous visits to the medical centre so we had to try and piece the information together from nothing but her verbal account.

We finished the assessment visit and walked back to the centre. As we walked, I started feeling sad and defeated that there was nothing that I could do to help little Daniel. The only option was to wait to see if he would meet the criteria for sponsorship in the programme.

Today when we arrived at the centre, it was announced that there was an opportunity to take Daniel to the international hospital to have a consultation with a paediatrician to see what options there were for any treatment needed. Since I had seen Daniel and had helped complete the assessment form, I jumped at the opportunity and so accompanied him and his mother, along with a H4H representative, to the hospital.

As soon as the paediatrician saw Daniel, she confirmed what I already knew; that he should see a paediatric neurologist and have a full assessment, including an EEG, MRI and lumbar puncture. Today all we could do for Daniel was have blood tests and an infusion of an anti-convulsant medication to see if the seizure activity lessened. These interventions then led to a prescription being issued for an antibiotic due to a bacterial infection and an anti-convulsant, as the drug administered to Daniel in the clinic had a good effect.

I left the hospital with more questions than when I’d entered. I saw the snowball effect of providing medical care to a child whose family are completely unable to pay for continuing care. We were able to get him some treatment to alleviate his symptoms, but not surprisingly, didn’t find the cause of his symptoms. Will Daniel ever be able to see a neurologist and have the tests he so desperately needs? And even with a diagnosis, will his family be able to afford ongoing treatment?

The feelings triggered by the social injustice of this situation, and so many like it, are overwhelming. I find myself wondering why this is happening in a world where international aid is poured into countries where poverty is rife. How can we tackle health inequalities in the poorest parts of society and ensure that every child has access to free, good medical care and education? These questions are largely unanswerable. A group of student nurses on a 4 week elective cannot save everyone. But what we (and I) can do, is make a difference, no matter how small, to the person standing in front of us. We showed Daniel’s mother we cared for her son and his whole family today. We hopefully bought him some time while Hands for Hope investigate ways in which he may be able to receive further treatment at no cost to his family. We can make a difference, where we are, to whoever happens to cross our paths at any particular time. It is a great responsibility but also a great privilege.

Lastly, please treasure our amazing NHS. If Daniel lived in the U.K., he would have been seen and treated for free. Don’t take it for granted – it’s a wonderful gift that we have.