SA team help starved Somalis to smile again

2011-08-03 00:00

MOGADISHU (Somalia) — A few hundred Somali refugees received proper medical and food aid for the first time in months this week, thanks to an emergency relief effort from Pietermaritzburg.

From early morning mothers and fathers holding mostly babies started queuing where the South African team had set up a temporary clinic and feeding centre in a ruin in the Howlwadaag area in Mogadishu.

Doctors and dieticians divided the sick into three groups: those who required more intensive medical help, those who weren’t seriously ill, and those who were simply underfed. Most were refugee children.

It is in the eyes of the babies and children that their symptoms are most clearly visible.

The emaciated little bodies whose eyes, showing no interest in anything around them, just wanted to keep closing, were the ones most needing intervention.

According to Dr Omar Jooma, a paediatrician from Pietermaritzburg and a member of Gift of the Givers, which brought the emergency relief team to Mogadishu, the approximately 200 patients they saw in the “clinic” yesterday are proof of the country’s tragic medical statistics.

Approximately 160 children in every 1 000 — both refugees and permanent city residents — suffer from severe malnutrition or undernourishment. “The slightest virus or illness weakens their systems so much that they can offer no resistance to it. A number of the children have pneumonia or simply no longer show any interest in food. Consequently they become so dehydrated that they go into shock,” he explained.

The walls of the building in which the clinic has been set up bear the pock marks of many gun battles in the recent past.

Now bags of intravenous drips hang against these walls, rehydrating at least a few children to such an extent that they can start drinking independently again.

Some of the two-year-old infants weigh barely six kilograms. The hair of some of them is a lightish colour, which, says Jooma, is another indication of malnutrition.

“Some of them are so badly dehydrated that the only vein into which we can insert a needle for rehydration is next to the temple,” said Dr Anith Ramcharan, another paediatrician from Pietermaritzburg.

Dr Qasim Bhorat, a general practitioner who normally practises in Soweto, said the aim of the group of doctors is just to give as many of the children as possible that they will see this week a boost so that they will be strong enough to eat and drink by themselves again.

“One cannot allow the large numbers requiring help to make the small numbers that we can help seem insignificant. You do what you can and for at least a few we should mean the difference between life and death,” is how Bhorat, the group’s medical co-ordinator, summed it up.

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