Thursday, 30 April 2009

28th April - the afternoon

Spent the afternoon filming for the project. Followed Fiona Gall and her team to the disability centre where we saw 3 patients and interviewed their parents. So sad, such severe disabilities. First was a woman who had an 18 month old baby with a syndrome which has left her unable to walk or sit up alone. The mother has already lost two babies in childbirth. They live 2 hours walk from the nearest clinic and many of the women in her village die in labour, unable to reach medical help. She is hoping that John Fixssen-an Orthopaedic surgeon recently retired from Great Ormond Street, who is visiting, will provide some miracle cure for her child.

Second is an older mother with a 10 year old girl with cerebral palsy. She has a beautiful face. She will never walk and will be dependent on her family always.

The last is a young boy with his father and brother. He sits with his arms and legs out rigid, his mouth held open at all times. He became jaundiced while he was a school boy in 6th grade and suffered terrible brain damage as a result. His father is very poor and runs a stall selling second hand things in the bazaar. The boy’s brother is his carer. He does everything for him and is the most loving and gracious child—his arm protectively around his brother at all times, he carries him or helps him to move by holding him around the waist and propelling him forwards. He washes him and takes him to the loo, feeds him and apart from his 4 hours schooling each day is constantly at his side. The only thing that can be done to help this boy is to give him a wheelchair, made locally and suitable for the harsh environment ....and something that will give him much more freedom and help his carer. 3 cameos of life, very moving and incredibly humbling.

We move on to the Taloqan District Hospital to meet a doctor who will give us an interview about healthcare in Afghanistan and show us around the hospital. I brace myself for the worst—Afghan hospitals I have visited in the past have been the most harrowing and deeply upsetting places to visit, filthy and full of despair and smelling of death and urine. Human misery at its most manifest.

This hospital couldn’t have been more of a surprise and shows what can be done. It is run by a wonderful man who fled to Holland during the worst of the fighting. He continued his medical training and work there and then decided to return to his country and play a part in its redevelopment. He gave us a very eloquent and fascinating interview, discussing all the problems related to health care in Afghanistan—the relentless years of war, the huge distances to clinics and hospitals, the appalling roads and transport, the economic problems, the lack of infrastructure and capacity, lack of qualified doctors, restrictions on women seeing male doctors, shortage of female doctors, poor security—with doctors and clinic workers being murdered and facilities burned down and so much more.......But he also offered great ideas for improving the system and examples of what has already been achieved.

He showed us around his immaculate hospital which would shame any NHS facility by its cleanliness. We saw the neonatal unit, the operating theatre, the obstetric unit. All very basic, but clean and functional. Then onto the malnutrition unit...where starvation and disease are still manifesting themselves in tiny wasted bodies with huge empty eyes. It is shocking to see and deeply disturbing, but at least we know that these children are now in capable hands in a clean and safe environment and most will get better.

He is a remarkable man and this is a remarkable hospital and a symbol of true those schools we saw yesterday, it shows that with determination and commitment, things can improve...these are the success stories about which we never read.

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