The Medical Situation in Swaziland
Yesterday was pretty hectic. A team from Luke Commission came to visit a school virtually across the road from our church at Dwaleni. We had invited them to come as part of our service to the community, taking care of the sick at their homes.
But I have to be honest that there were times yesterday when I had more questions than answers. After 24 years in Swaziland, I haven’t seen any real improvement in the health system of the country. This was a mobile clinic which we were part of and more than 800 people were attended to. Children were inspected for scabies and other diseases often found in children. Adults’ blood pressure was taken and recorded and those over fifty were also tested for diabetes, a disease which is becoming very common in Africa. All adults were also invited to be tested for HIV. The majority of those who were tested, tested negative. Although this sounds like extremely good news, the reason is most probably that those who are living promiscuously did not consent to be tested. Some of our home-based caregivers then counselled both those who tested negative as well as those who tested positive. Those who tested positive also had blood drawn in order to determine their CD4 count, which will indicate whether they are eligible to receive anti-retroviral medicine from the government. Many of those who had come also had their eyes tested and from tens of thousands pairs of glasses donated, and with the help of a really nifty machine and a huge database, all of those who needed glasses could be helped. On a lighter note, some of those who received glasses looked really strange as many of the frames had been worn in the USA as part of a fashion outfit. But in the end, to be able to see, is what really counts.
Two patients really touched me. One was a young woman with severe chest pains. In fact, she was crying most of the time because of the pain. The doctor told me that she was HIV-positive and they suspected that it might be TB which is causing the pain (one of the main diseases often associated with AIDS.) The sad news was that she had been to the health centre in Nhlangano, one of the main towns in Swaziland and they had given her pain killers and sent her back home. Then she went to Hlatikhulu, where one of Swaziland’s main hospitals are situated and they did the same. And then she came to us, in the hope that we could help her. But the doctor could do nothing for her without first seeing an X-ray. I eventually spoke to the girl’s father and told him to take his daughter to the clinic and insist that they do an X-ray to try and determine what is causing the pain. And then he told me that he could not take her, because he had no bus fare! Eventually I gave them bus fare and hope that they would have gone to the hospital today.
And then a schoolboy turned up. He was probably about thirteen or fourteen. During a football game he had broken his leg above the knee, about four weeks ago. He had gone for surgery and a metal rod was inserted to help with the healing of the bone. He came to us yesterday and his mother told us that almost since the operation he has been suffering from extreme pain. They had gone back to the clinic, but it does not seem as if much was done. The doctor then removed the bandage and we found that the metal rod was sticking at least three inches out of his leg! His body was busy rejecting the rod. His knee was swollen to at least twice its normal size and from the smell it was clear that there was extreme infection in the bone. I cannot even start to imagine the pain the poor boy had to go through.
Fortunately, the doctor could arrange for him to be admitted to a hospital where he is now on intravenous antibiotics. Whether it will be possible to save the leg remains to be seen.
I don’t have an answer to Swaziland (and the same can be said about most African countries’) health situation. I’m just wondering how many lives can be saved if the health system could improve.