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Sierra Leone News:CHETANYA’s View: Witnessing Salone’s medical crisis

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

Before I came to Sierra Leone, I knew medical facilities are underequipped and supplies inadequate. But it’s one thing to know this, and another to see what it actually looks like.
On Friday I went to the 34 Military Hospital to cover the story of a nine-year-old girl named Isha who hurt her back after a school friend pushed her and caused her to fall down a flight of stairs. She’s been at the hospital for over six months now, and uses a wheelchair.
Doctors believe she has spinal tuberculosis, or Pott’s disease. But they’re aren’t certain, and there’s been essentially no progress in treating her. To properly diagnose the problem, a nurse told me, Isha would need to be flown to a more modern hospital to be scanned and perhaps treated. This could be in Ghana, India, the United States or somewhere else. Until this happens, there’s no way to tell what even needs to be fixed.
Back in the United States, when I read that Sierra Leone has limited medical infrastructure, it didn’t conjure up much of an image for me. But hearing from a pediatric nurse, her face registering resignation to the reality that there was little the hospital could do, was different.
In the pediatric ward, Isha’s mother seemed subdued and close to tears. She showed us photos on a tablet of her daughter’s back, her spine sticking out alarmingly. When I asked if she’s in pain, Isha answered immediately from the wheelchair, “No.” The nurse said she’s on pain medication, which is basically all the hospital can do.
“I’m waiting in God’s time,” her mother said.
She and her daughter deserve something quicker and more certain than that.
As a Westerner, I’ve always taken for granted that basic medical care is available, even if it’s costly or unaffordable. A major problem plaguing the American health care system is that too many people can’t afford to be treated. But at least the medical infrastructure exists.
It’s just wrong that in Sierra Leone’s largest city, it doesn’t. The United States Embassy recently donated about $800,000 USD worth of supplies to the 34 Military Hospital. It’s clear this was just a drop in the bucket.
We hear about the humanitarian crisis of millions of refugees leaving a war-torn Syria  though given its magnitude, we don’t hear enough. And when problems in Africa reach a crises point, they reach the international headlines, usually only when they’re extreme enough. But even though Sierra Leone is at peace and Ebola is gone, the medical shortage in hospitals is a humanitarian crisis of its own. I don’t care if it fits the official definition; there’s no other way to describe it. It simmers under the surface, attracting little attention, as though it’s acceptable just because it isn’t a raging epidemic.
Living in the United States, it’s easy to forget that this is how things are in poor countries like Sierra Leone, and will continue to be until medical infrastructure improves. Isha obviously can’t wait until that happens. She needs treatment now. I really hope she can get it.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Monday August 01, 2016

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