Back to Reality: Children’s Health in South Africa

Back to Reality: Children’s Health in South Africa

Volunteer Carmel Lawry recently returned to her placement in Holy Family Care Centre, South Africa, after a brief “break” of study, work and exams in Australia to enhance her health qualifications. She provides another update of life for the community – and the young- of Ofcolaco.

I have been back in Ofcolaco for 2 weeks and currently I’m having a weekend off – my first days off so I have a chance to write an email. I’m in Tzaneen which is the nearest major town staying at the convent for 2 nights – I get to go swimming and have my favorite milo milkshake!!!! I also needed to do a bit of food shopping and pick up my truck load of diet coke!
It’s been busy at Holy Family – the baby is one month old today – he is healthy and growing well. I am getting used to looking after him although we take turns – we restrict contact to four people – 2 staff who alternate sleeping overnight with the baby, myself and Sr Emilie, a nurse from Congo. Besides the clinic and general stuff I’ve been doing a bit of admin and when Sally the director is away I’m in charge – OMG! There is always something to do around the place and getting a good night’s sleep is so important.

The kids are good – we currently have one girl with tuberculosis and on 6 months daily treatment – unfortunately it went unnoticed as she is HIV+ with chronic lung problems including a cough. How do you distinguish a chronic cough with a TB cough as one of the first signs of TB is unexplained coughing for 2+ weeks? Anyway the treatment has made such a difference – she is much brighter and participating in a few activities. Again, she is a very shy girl so hard to tell by her lack of participation. The hospital has also recommended that all the kids under 5 and any kids who are HIV+ to have prophylactic TB treatment which will be quite some undertaking in medication administration. We also have a lot of kids with chronic eye problems like a chronic conjunctivitis – it mainly causes a yellowing of the whites of their eyes and general discomfort. The doctors order about 3 lots of eyedrops for treatment so we have to round up a lot of kids to ensure they don’t miss their doses.

Two kids have just turned 18 which is the cut off for support from Holy Family (or govt regulations) although we have got permission to keep them unfunded until their departure is finalised (the govt funding is inadequate and they are usually 3 – 6 months behind in payment). The boy has been there since toddler age and is HIV+. His mother died at Holy Family and no other extended family wanted him. He now has the opportunity to live with his brother however his home is one room made roughly by bricks – the place looks like it will fall down and is no way waterproof. There is some funding to have a two room house built for them so as soon as this is done he will go to live with his brother. The photo of the brother’s house is attached.

There is a very low level of education at the local village school. The 200 odd students in the High school including Holy Family Children all failed last semester’s exams. Education is a step to bettering the children’s lives – education may enable employment and reduce poverty. The children cannot see the value, the standard is poor- And people from their villages have never been employed. We keep trying though.