The story behind the picture

by Dr. Wolfgang Heide, 2015/12/08

There are moments in live that engrave in our memory. Images, which preoccupy us and inspire thought - in an either pleasing or depressing way.

When people set out for an intervention with humedica, they find themselves time and again confronted with scenarios of disasters or grave poverty. After their return home often images stay in their mind, which illustrate particularly well a certain experience or story they witnessed.

We would like to show you one of these pictures here. The story behind it dates from our voluntary Wolfgang Heide, who faced disturbing conditions during his aid intervention in the Ethiopian refugee camp Melkadida.

35 kilos

„This time I went along with humedica to Melkadida in Ethiopia, where a local team treats the 40.000 refugees, who come for the main part from Somalia, in a large health care station. Although the local humedica team in Melkadida lives and works under very basic conditions, the lives of the refugees are still a lot harder.

Melkadida is located in the middle of a desert. The temperatures are accordingly high and barely cool down even at night. We sleep in simple corrugated-iron huts and cook our meals over charcoal. Water is not always available and due to a broken refrigerator lukewarm water has to be sufficient to quench our constant thirst. The water for our team as well as for the refugees comes from the only river in the surroundings and is treated to render it potable.

There is rarely something fresh to eat, because groceries are rare and expensive. A generator provides electricity for hardly four hours in the evening. For safety reasons we are not allowed to go out after six o´clock in the evening. But where to go in such a place? Melkadida is far away from any kind of luxury and comfort, only to get there it takes three days driving over nothing but unpaved roads and dried out riverbeds for the last day. A UN plane can only fly in there when the clayey runway is absolutely dry. The newly constructed asphalted runway can not be used due to construction faults.

The basic living conditions of the humedica team allow only the most necessary expenditures and ensure that all means go to the health care station and the refugees. Our experienced coordinator Konni takes great care not to spend money unnecessarily.

My task in Ethiopia is to install a new ultrasonic device, to teach the medical staff and to treat pregnant and gynaecological patients. The ultrasonic testing in our health care station generally is the only examination of this kind for expectant mothers. As I am specialised in sonography, I can pass on a lot of advice and experience to the local employees and they learn and train with keen interest.

We focus on defining the gestational age and on excluding serious problems such as an unfavourable placenta position or a malpresentation of the foetus. Several times we also diagnosed amazed mothers with a twin pregnancy. One reason more why these ultrasonic tests are so important for patients.

Time and time again women visit who are longing for a child since a long time already. Even if the weight of one of these women was difficult to guess because of her wide robe, I nevertheless already had a severe presumption. When finally all women climbed on the scales, this supposition was confirmed: 44 kilos of body weight and 170 cm of body height or, even worse, 35 kilos of body weight and 165 cm of body height. According to the World Health Organisation's definition this is a severely advanced undernourishment presenting an acute danger to live. The failing pregnancy is just a logical consequence. The immune system is seriously disrupted and minor infections, which are common in refugee camps, can no longer be fended off.

On my request I was told that every refugee is allocated 1,5 kilos of cereals each month. But even this is sometimes sold, because the people have also to buy other necessities. In the weeks before my departure, the German media over and over reported that the UNHCR Refugee Agency means are running out in view of the ever increasing number of refugees. What kind of news in the face of 35 kilos of body weight.

Shouldn´t we, who are primarily concerned with not adding more pounds to the scale, get a weird feeling when we hear this? Shouldn´t we stop to call people, who flee these conditions, “economic migrants”? And shouldn´t we do as much as possible to help these people? Yes, we should, because we must not remain indifferent to the image of a scale indicating the 35 kilos of an adult woman´s body weight.”

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