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Death stalks the children’s corridor: Inside Angola’s second-largest hospital 0

There are more than 40 people in the room, most of them sitting or lying on their cotton wraps on the floor. The heat is unbearable, as is the stink of sweat and dirt.

 The windows are permanently left wide open to try to offset the stifling, oppressive atmosphere. It doesn’t help. Just outside the windows at the back of the building, broken sewers add a horrible, nauseating stench to the air.

This sorry scene is repeated in every ward in the paediatric block, where relatives lie prostrate the length of the corridors, unable for lack of space to get any closer to their sick children.

Welcome to the Paediatric Unit of Américo Boavida Hospital in Luanda, named for the doctor-turned-freedom-fighter known in the field as Ngola Kimbanda (the chief healer). He must be turning in his grave. It’s the second largest hospital in Angola. Only the Josina Machel hospital is bigger, but it is in just as sorry a state now.

In Ward 4 there are seven beds, each shared by two patients. Another nine children lie on the dirty floor, with nothing but their mother’s cotton wraps to cushion them. Everyone else in the ward is a family member desperately trying to look after their child. Some sit, some lie down on the floor, some nurse their babies, some are hopeful, some despair.

Threading her way through the narrowest gap is a single nurse, her professionalism denoted by the surgical mask she wears and her frantic attempts to attend to everyone even though one pair of hands is just not enough. She bustles from one side to the other, in perpetual motion and sweating buckets, replacing saline drips, monitoring blood transfusions. Her work station, in the centre of the room, bears syringes and little else. You’d think you were in a field hospital in the middle of a war zone. Bags of saline are placed on the window sills directly above the broken sewers. There is no space alongside the beds nor stands from which to hang them immediately above the patients.

One year-old Natália Julião dos Santos is lying on the floor with a saline drip in her arm, her aunt lying alongside her to attend to her needs. She is a survivor. Her three older siblings died in the space of 24 hours, their short lives abruptly terminated by a yellow fever epidemic hours before Natalia was admitted to hospital. The epidemic, on the outskirts of Luanda, has already claimed an estimated 100 lives (Read: Yellow Fever Epidemic in Luanda Claims Three Siblings).

There was a 15-hour wait for admission before she could even be placed on the floor of the ward and put on a drip. She needed a blood transfusion but as her family hadn’t donated blood, she couldn’t have it. The system is pragmatic: families must give blood before their own relatives are allowed transfusions from the existing hospital stock.

Continue reading on The Daily Maverick

by Rafael Marques De Morais

Photo credits The Daily Maverick

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