At the Kara’s in Omo valley

A review of humedica doctor Eva Scharf-Hofner

by Eva Scharf-Hofner/LKO,  2015/04/25

Along the Omo river, in the south-west of Ethiopia, lives the small ethnic group Kara. Isolated and nearly untouched by civilization, they have hardly any access to medical care. Several times a year, humedica sends a team of doctors into the region along the Omo River, in order to treat the ill and injured people.

The Austrian doctor Eva Scharf-Hofner from Vienna has been part of this team for the first time. Her review reveals how a relief operation far away from any civilization must be imagined:

“In the middle of February I met my team, consisting of three nurses, one doctor and one student of medicine, at Frankfort airport, where we started our flight to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abeba together. Arriving there, we were taken into charge by a staff member who has lived and worked in Ethiopia for years and our journey of two days into the south-west of the country could start.

Whereas at the beginning of our trip we still drove on tarmacked roads, they more and more changed into sand tracks, until in the end it only seemed to be a footpath. The cool temperature which had welcomed us in Addis Abeba soon yielded to a great heat of 45 degrees, which we could however stand well because it was the dry season. But from then on, dust accompanied us everywhere during our whole stay there and we were glad having well protected our luggage at the beginning of the trip.

Shortly before reaching our goal we had to cross a river bed, the ground of which only consisted of loose and deep sand. But our driver brilliantly mastered this task with our ill-suited minivan and, unlike other vehicles not far away from us, did not stay stuck in the river bed. After our arrival in the Omo valley we just had to move into our tents, which had already been put up. As we were only five people, everyone got an own tent.

The next morning, we packed our things and got to work. Every half day we went to another Kara village, where we set up our “clinic” under the trees and treated the ill and injured on simple mats. Medicine student Daniel turned out to be our most important staff member and colleague, as he was responsible for the time-consuming and daily necessary drinking water purification from the Omo River.

After having examined our patients, they could fetch their prescribed medicine at our “pharmacy” on the loading area on our pickup. Mostly, dispensing the medicine was accompanied by long and patient explanations concerning the taking of the medicine. I don’t know how the mothers of the big families were able to remember the instructions for each of their children. They could not read, so they had to keep everything in mind.

An important part of our work was also the information about hygiene, which especially aroused the women’s interest and in the context of which we distributed soaps to the families. As our stay happened during the dry period, none of our patients was suffering of malaria. Even if there were some suspicious cases, they quickly turned out to be negative by doing quick tests.

In one village on a bend of the Omo River we encountered an especially important number of bilharziosis cases. A tropical infectious disease, transmitted by trematodes but which can be treated with medicine.

Besides that, we repeatedly met patients who suffered from deformations or from eye cataracts. In the context of our possibilities we only could inform the latter about current operation projects and about the means and ways to obtain the corresponding appointments. A special case has been a one-month old baby, who has been diagnosed a life-threatening pneumonia. In this case we only could transfer the baby into the next hospital, which was half a day trip away.

Besides the many good experiences with the country and the people, we unfortunately also remarked, in the context of our work there, several negative developments in the Omo valley. For example, we repeatedly saw scrap metal and broken machines, which were rusting and decorating the landscape because there were no mechanics. Big cotton plantations have occupied large areas and by their watering system are slowly emptying the Omo River, the life line of the Kara people.

It has been an interesting experience and an exciting commitment I wouldn’t like to miss. But we have learned that we must be very careful about the influences which the western world brings to the Kara. Because slowly but surely the Kara are being pushed away and I am afraid that they are not going to exist as a recognizable ethnic group for a long time any more. “

Civilization is approaching the Kara tribe in the south of Ethiopia in great strides. And even if progress also brings about positive elements like better medical care, for the Kara the dark sides of civilization prevail. Their last retreat is getting smaller, their resources scarcer, and their need of help bigger. Please support the help for the Kara with a precious donation. Thank you very much!

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