July 5, 2011

Weekly(ish) Photo Essay: The Miracle Children

When you come to a place like this and see how much there is to do, it sometimes feels like unless you rebuild everything from the ground up, nothing you do will make a difference. 

No matter how many millions of dollars USAID or UNDP or whatever other international organization dumps into developing countries, you still walk down the street and see children in torn clothes playing with dirty plastic bottles next to open sewers, and you question what good any of this is actually doing. 

Today we spent all morning touring the two national hospitals in Bamako, both of which could easily pass as world war two army barracks. The astounding lack of clinical equipment, hygiene, and basic services—admitted patients (and their families) are responsible for providing their own food and doing their own hospital laundry—was completely disheartening. 

Seeing things like that makes everything seem so futile; frustrating at best, and physically, financially, and emotionally exhausting at worst. 

But then you see the little ways in which people have actually made a difference, and all of a sudden everything seems worthwhile again. 

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but Malians have a way of just stopping by and expecting you to drop everything you’re doing and play hostess for as long as they care to stay. It’s a charming part of the local culture, but as a North American used to people scheduling meetings weeks in advance and then calling to confirm, it’s a disruptive rhythm to adjust to. Not to mention annoying when I was about to settle in by the pool with a good book.
Today our visitors were three women who came by with their children, and with Koura, the 11-year-old girl I mentioned before. For once I wasn’t annoyed because there were cute little children running all over the place, and after spending all morning with a two-year-old who cried every time I touched her, I was excited to see some babies who actually wanted to sit in my lap and play. 

They were three PTME women from the clinic (PTME stands for Prevention de Transmission Mere-Enfant, French for MTCTP, which stands for Mother-to-Child Transmission Prevention), who had come to talk to Annie (the GAIA director, who’s in town for the week) about their women’s association. 

As I sat there listening to these women, taking photos of the children, and letting them crawl all over me (I think one of them might have even peed on me) I realized that even though all of the women were HIV positive, thanks to the PTME program at the GAIA clinic, all their children were HIV negative.

These three adorable little girls are going to have the chance to grow up and have normal lives only because this little program, run out of an almost-crumbling clinic, funded by a cash-strapped NGO, made sure that their mothers got the care and support they needed to make sure their children weren’t born sick.

In fact, since the PTME program started in 2005, every child born at the clinic to an HIV positive mother has been born HIV negative. The children who were—unfortunately—born HIV positive since then to some of the PTME women were delivered in other clinics. Chez Rosalie Clinic, which I have the privilege to be working for, has a 100% success rate with Mother to Child Transmission Prevention. 

Now, I know it’ll be a while before the national hospital gets rebuilt, and before every hungry child gets three meals a day and finishes school. But when I think about those three little girls—and all the other children born with the help of the PTME program—who never have to face the difficulties of growing up with HIV, it makes all the other problems seem less daunting.

1 comment:

Katelyn said...

I really find your post about this very inspiring. I'm helping to plan a mission trip to Belize in the spring and you really remind me how small steps make a difference. I look forward to hearing more about your journey.