We recently had a delegation arrive in Cavango consisting of 7 cars with 20+ leaders from the province and the municipality in which we are located. It was a gratifying response to our visit with the Director of Health of Huambo (our province) in November. Most of them came from Huambo, 5+ hrs away. They each made a presentation as to how they wished to respond to our list of requests and they all responded positively. Many promises were made, including providing medications for Leprosy and TB, providing vaccinations (and a gas refrigerator), helping with our construction by providing roofing, providing 2 motorcycles to help with transportation issues, and providing an ambulance for patient transport. Most of the promises have been made before (the ambulance has been promised for many years), so we’ll see how actions follow words. There is a saying among rural Angolans as to the government, “That’s the theory; let’s wait and see about the practical results.” It is a remarkably gracious statement, as it as it calls no one a liar, accepts the intentions as presented, and separates intentions from results.
Last week, we had our first vaccination clinic at Cavango. No vaccinations are available in Angola except through the government (same with Leprosy and TB medications). Over the past year, we’ve initiated more than a dozen four-hour trips to Catchiungo, on an awful dirt “road”, to meet with government leaders re. the underserved region of Cavango and how we can work together. On the very first visit we were promised the vaccinations and at least five times they said “come back next week and they’ll be ready”. We continued to return, time after time, and we finally actually picked up the immunizations in December. The theoretical vs the practical! Seventy-seven children were immunized on that first day, with virtually no announcements. Our two nurses did well to vaccinate all comers by day’s end. Our clinic will give these 11 vaccines one day/week except for urgent tetanus immunizations, which will be administered “as needed”. It’s nice to realize that 77 kids (and about the same number the second week) will now not be injured or killed by tetanus, measles, polio, pertussis, hepatitis, yellow fever…
Our good turnout reveals not only the regional need (several families walked for hours), but also the cultural acceptance of these life-saving preventative measures. Most people here have personally known someone with polio, tetanus, pertussis, meningitis, etc and kids die yearly in every community from measles outbreaks. The protection that these vaccines offer are here not theoretical or questionable (like they are to many ignorant and/or foolish folks in the states who, because of the extreme efficacy of safe, readily available and inexpensive vaccines, have never seen these diseases), but quite practical, as their life-saving capabilities are radically demonstrated in just a few years. These immunizations will do more for the physical health of the people of this region than a full-time doctor. We are able to keep these vaccinations at our Cavango Clinic, where there is no power, because of a 12V, solar refrigerator generously purchased by VCDC, our home church in the US.
A few days ago I made another emergency trip to Catchiungo (our municipality – same mentioned above – which has a small hospital, but no surgical capability so most severe cases that we take there are then transferred to the urban hospital), a four-hour trip on dirt which is now, depending on the day, about 20% covered in water. Our patient was a 23 year-old woman who lives in the village closest to us to our north, about 12km or 7 miles away. While we were seeing patients in the morning, a man arrived on a motorbike to tell us her story. She had begun labor, at about nine months of pregnancy, the night before at about 7p. At midnight, she delivered a dead baby (so many babies are born dead here that wouldn’t be elsewhere), but even though her labor continued, she could not deliver the placenta. Then at about 5a, an arm suddenly delivered and the “midwife” (usually a group of concerned women) couldn’t deliver the second twin (there is no prenatal screening in this region, so she didn’t know she was carrying twins). They waited as her labor continued and at about 8a they began preparing for a journey to our hospital and at 10a they began the long walk, while this man came to notify us.
They had quite cleverly rigged up a stretcher by tying together branches and suspending them between two bicycles. We took off in our car and encountered them on the “road” (there were 20+ people from her community accompanying her to the hospital), having already walked over three miles (see photos). We transported her to our hospital and evaluated her to find that the baby had died and was lying sideways in the woman’s uterus and wouldn’t deliver and, though I was able to replace the baby’s arm in the uterus, I couldn’t reposition the baby for delivery and a Cesarean was her only option (which we don’t have the facilities to provide). We hydrated her (she was severely dehydrated), medicated her and loaded her into our car and left for Catchiungo (with 6 family members) where, after about a two hour wait (which is quite brief there), she was transferred to the closest city (about an hour on pavement) for the operation, which we later found out was done urgently and successfully.
Julieta (see photo) died this past week in Cavango, at the age of 65. She was honored in both life and in death in this village and beyond because of how she handled a life filled with adversity and pain. She contracted a severe and debilitating form of Leprosy when 16 years old. She suffered from the destruction of her hands, feet, and face. She lost the ability to perform even the simplest personal tasks. The people here say that two of her most endearing characteristics were how she never complained and how she had such obvious peace and joy in the midst of her suffering (nothing is a more powerful witness to God’s presence). In spite of the disability she faced every moment of her life, she loved God and knew intimately His love for her, which then radiated from her to others. It was this love relationship with her Father that gave her the sober joy that was Julieta.
We saw a beautiful 15 year old girl in our clinic yesterday (from about 70km away) with a severe form of leprosy, mainly (and significantly) on her face, but also beginning on her arms. She visited several health posts over the past year and was prescribed various creams. She will begin treatment today and will never face the life that Julieta faced… because you have sent us here and support our work with your prayer and finances and we were able to begin early treatment for this otherwise debilitating and deforming disease.
Our Father died for, and is pursuing, each and every one. As He pursues, He allows each of us to face various trials and blessings and He heals/rescues/prospers some, while others face injustice/debilitating illness/persecution/loss. Can you imagine how many times Julieta prayed for healing and/or relief of her suffering, and was prayed for? Julieta encourages me to remember that this often painful life is but a disappearing mist in light of eternity. She now knows none of the disabilities that she struggled with daily for so long. She has now met the One she trusted, in spite of not seeing/understanding. Her Father has likely shed light on why He didn’t heal her, why she suffered so, and why she never will again…