Walter is unique. Of all of our nurses, he’s the only one who makes sick patients laugh before they even sit down. It’s impossible to feel bad when you are around him. We had great hopes for the New health center he ran on the border of South Sudan, when disaster struck. The banks of the Unyama river burst, and within an hour the water was up to his thighs. He saved our drugs. He lost 2 sacks of rice and beans. His wife and baby were safe.
He was shaken, as any of us would be. He moved to another new health center based in the a youth remand home. It’s a place where justice isn’t usually done. Youth between 12 and 18 await trial. Some for one month. Some for a year or more. Many are found innocent after already serving months in a poorly kept, poorly fed institution. Our misson and Walter’s mission is to promote good health for these vulnerable youth. And who better than Walter to do it?
The remand home health team is amazing. Nurses Emma and Shirley work with Walter to oversee health education and screening. Every new youth gets screened for malnutrition, malaria, hepatitis B and HIV. Over 30 youth were positive for malaria that was immediately treated and cured. One had HIV diagnosed for the first time, and was started on life saving antiviral drugs. Dangerous outbreaks of bloody diarrhoea, conjunctivitis and skin infections have been stopped with a combination of good treatment, education and public health measures. After 7 kids got bloody diarrhoea, Walther and Emma found that kids were hiding extra food in their rooms, then sharing it later without washing their hands. A hygiene nightmare! This was stopped, the kids were treated and there were no more cases.
Unfortunately though, it wasn’t working with the community. Its understandable that many people didn’t want to enter through prison gates. People would rather go to drug shops, which were easy to access but expensive and low quality. Others weren’t aware of the service in the sprawling peri-urban area. Some gave up after they couldn’t find the health center. The few Community who did come loved Walter, the fair price and quality treatment, but despite Walter’s amazing work with the youth, it became hard to justify a full time nurse for only 40 youth with only a few community patients.
We felt terrible, but hope wasn’t lost. The team decided to step out in faith and make one last push with the community. They went to market days with free HIV screening and health education. Trusted community leaders reached 200 houses with the services we offered. There was a three month deadline. If we couldn’t double the patient turn-up, the place would have to close. I thought the hill was too steep, and it probably wouldn’t happen. We awaited the response. We didn’t have to wait long.
Their community push worked better than expected. In the last 3 months, the number of community patients has more than doubled. In March, April and May there have been 170, 180, and 190 community patients respectively, in addition to 40 to 100 monthly consultations with the remand hoe kids. The money coming in from the community sustains our nurse, and pays for the drugs needed for the community. In the meantime, the number of youth in the remand home doubled to 80 and they are now 2 to a bed, so it was crucial for them that we remained. Hope for the future has become a reality, and we’re even hoping a team will come later this year to expand the facility with a couple more rooms. After being here 5 yeas, I’ve found that its easy to on dwell failure, but its important to remember success like this.
Its important to say that I didn’t do any work towards this amazing turnaround. I’m just writing what’s happening! Walther, Emma and Shirley had the faith, hope and love required to make this work and it was amazing to see it happen from the sidelines.