FY2 Dr Mikey Bryant is in Sierra Leone with healthcare charity Mercy Ships. He has been volunteering in a children’s clinic for a year in a country where one in five children don’t live to see their 5th birthday. In this regular column he gives us an update on his experience.
I t’s Thursday morning. I am standing on a plank of wood trying to balance on a puddle of mud feeling a bit like a condemned sailor. John and I are doing our best to squeeze between two tin shacks on an expedition to ﬁnd as many children as we can.
We have started a new initiative. Several weeks ago, Colin and I realised that most of our patients were coming from two or three areas of Freetown. There were many areas where children have heard of our hospital but can’t make it to our clinic because they can’t aﬀord the 1000 leones (17 pence) to get a bus ride to come and see us. Our solution was simple – we decided to try to take the hospital to them.
John (my local guide to Kroo Bay) and I manage to push our way past the community centre and into a little honeycomb of metal roofs supported by small wooden sticks. There are children everywhere, all of them waving, there skinny arms thrust into the air like eager sunﬂowers, mouths open wide screaming “Alle alle!”.
Except for some of them. The most unwell are ominously quiet, the ﬁrst one I see is lying on the veranda with a cannula in her elbow, her eyes sunken and tired. She is trying to stay awake. Her Mum just looks confused, tears streaming down her face and she is looking quite lost. John tells me she can’t speak any Krio.
I can tell enough from the dehydration and bits of history from her younger sister that this girl has cholera. There has been a bit of an epidemic in the last few weeks and it has been tearing through the slums. We manage to get her to start swallowing oral rehydration solution and John explains to the family what they need to do to try to stop it from spreading around the bay.
I move on and have a look at another child. There are lots of children with pneumonia and malaria. They’re usually fairly easy to diagnose as the presentations are so ﬂorid. I ask a couple of the mums why their children haven’t had any medicine. The answers always the same – they don’t trust the local clinic and some say that they can’t afford the registration fee. So much for free health care!
As we walk around, rain starts coming down and the bay fills up like a bath. We see families trying to bail water out of their houses and I wonder why there has been no eﬀort to re-house these people – then realise the answers will only be the same depressing cycle of poverty and corruption.
As I trudge away from the bay feeling like a ﬁsherman caught in a cyclone, I can still allow myself a little smile, relieved in the knowledge that at least something good was done for a few people today. If nothing else, the children will remember we were there and hopefully next week word will get out and we will see a few more.
Read Mikey’s blog online at www.juniordr.com