While it is the least outcome we ever consider, it is the reality that some of us have had to confront. Nobody prays to have a sick child let alone have the child unwell for longer than a few hours. Sadly, many parents around the world have to deal with this. For some, it is short term but for some others it is a nightmare that gets more complicated by the day.
In some parts of the world, infant mortality is a reality and child health is gambled with by governments whose corrupt preferences mean less investment in adequate infrastructures including hospitals, laboratories and even staffing. This leaves helpless families resorting to total dependence on the forces of nature – God and even local deities for solutions to some simply avoidable, treatable childhood illnesses that sometimes have fatal outcomes.
On the other side of the sphere are countries with excellent health care and diagnostic capabilities including staff, research and state-of-the art facilities. In those countries, child health is valued and many lives are saved. Early diagnosis means many childhood illnesses are determined and treated where possible.
However, this also means that in the advanced countries, some parents, whose children’s lives are saved have to live long term with illnesses. Those families adhere to the management plan and survival strategies given for their children as prescribed by the respective medical teams. In the end, improvement of long-term outcomes (especially the quality of life) for children and their families become the focus for further research leading to breakthroughs in some areas.
In less developed societies however, where there is a total loss of confidence in the healthcare system, many children die needlessly. But interestingly, there is a general belief by some people there that the advanced societies are plagued with an assorted array of diseases especially child related ones as a result of their lifestyle choices. Genetic illnesses (amongst many forms of ailments) are blamed on the mistakes of civilised parents.
I am not personally sure about how this ideology came to be. It feels like a gimmick by unscrupulous leaders and institutions in less-developed societies to distract the people from their inadequacies as leaders. Most of the people are illiterate. Even those who are educated stay enslaved by their backward ideologies. They subsequently end up being educated illiterates as other aspects of their reasoning vehemently resist enlightenment.
The fact remains that in less-developed countries, many children who have died have not even been given the chance of an existence. Many of the people living daily with various ailments in advanced countries are adults who were once “children” given a chance to “live” because of the medical prowess of their countries. Certainly, over time people’s lifestyle choices may or may not affect their health outcomes. But even the opportunity to live long enough to make those said lifestyle choices is provided by the lease of life acquired through the exemplary healthcare enjoyed by those societies.
I am particularly touched by this on a personal level. I remember when my very first son was born back in Africa, he became unwell and subsequently died. Honestly, doctors did not know why or what caused his death. I could not fault the doctors’ efforts or abilities because they were beset with numerous constraints.
All the constraints where imposed on them as a result of the limitations in the system in general. Irrespective of their individual abilities as medical personnel, they were unfortunately rendered helpless due to the lack of supporting infrastructure. They, like other workmen could not function optimally without possessing the tools of the trade. These doctors were just victims of the gross systematic failure embedded within their society.
At times, the doctors had ideas about tests and interventions to perform on my son. These ideas unfortunately stayed stuck in their keen medical minds. They bubbled with different courses of action that could potentially save my child but their keenness ended in frustration as with every passing moment they realised that it was a lost battle for which they were ill equipped.
Simple scans required our travelling many miles to different hospitals with the adequate equipment to aid diagnosis. The commute was impossible to even attempt in the absence of adequate ambulance services to convey frail children like mine to such facilities. He simply stood no chance.
It was sad because, we all simply watched daily as my child withered away like a plant. Every passing day brought a new challenge that drew him closer to the end. On the day he turned blue, I was asked by a health care professional to pray. In not so many words, he said the child could be possessed by evil all because he had never seen such discolouration. Now with hindsight and exposure, I have come to realise that it may have been down to him not getting enough oxygen! Worse still, I even doubt to a large extent the validity of the paper upon which that doctor’s certificate was inscribed.
Do not get me wrong, I am a woman of prayer and appreciate the effectiveness of prayers. However, I am not convinced that God will come down from heaven to do for man what he must do for himself. We simply are inadequate as a continent. We fail our children daily. The healthcare system in its entirety is brought to shame and disrepute as a result of failings such as these. Even with all the aids and assistance pumped into child health by more developed countries, we still fail our people every single day.
I appreciate that there is the possibility that my son’s outcome may not have been different in an advanced society considering what I now know about the possible reasons for his demise. However, as parents, perhaps we would have had more answers than questions. We would not have been psychologically tortured and tormented by the constant insinuations we were left with. We would have had more than ill fate, witchcraft and evil forces to blame for our misfortune and had more valid explanations for the “mysterious” death of our child. So many children die daily in Africa and many less developed nations. Parents are tortured psychologically and ostracised while their families are tagged as evil for reasons that can easily be explained.
In my case, I was fortunate to have two children who honestly would not be alive if I had not migrated to pastures new. The drama surrounding their births bear witness to the fact that their only reasons for existence are down to nothing short of medical miracles. As happy as that makes me as a person, it hurts me as a mum for other parents because, every child deserves to have this chance. Although my older son is healthy, the younger was not left unscathed.
You see, I cannot help but wonder what the outcome would have been for my younger son if I had honoured my sister’s wedding invitation and travelled back home to Africa for her nuptials while pregnant for him. His premature birth would have meant my birthing him in Africa. His near death experience after birth subsequently, led to the diagnosis of a life threatening illness which we are learning to cope with. This means that like his brother before him (born in Africa), he would not have survived an African birth. Would I not have concluded like most people I know back home that the problem was surely the witches in Africa? Would I not have erroneously believed that my elder son was spared from a witch-feast because he was born far away from home? Oh! I weep at the thought of how my mind would have closed forever to other possible and yet valid reasons?
I would have not been easily convinced that the land of my birth was not responsible for all my misfortunes. I would have been blinded forever like most ill-fated people back home in Africa. It has now cemented my belief that many of the witchcraft attributed cases in my motherland are just down to unsolved mysteries that elsewhere have simple explanations.
While I cannot tell if the quality of life for some children who survive severe health conditions is worth not sleeping peacefully in death for, I cannot belittle the opportunities and possibilities availed them as a result of their survival. Staying alive is an opportunity for parents to do their best for their children. It is an opportunity to share a lifetime with their children. It allows these children to be celebrated (on special days like the birthdays and other celebrations). Living ensures that children get to know they are surrounded by people who care about them.
By living, children can hope to benefit from the possibilities that lie ahead. The possibility of a cure or breakthrough can only be enjoyed by children who survive. The cures provide an end to their plight, while advancements and breakthroughs may offer them a better quality of life. Stem cells treatments, new medicines, trial drugs and many more hold within them the promise of a brighter future for these children.
Most of the problems we face in our continent are down to Africa being reverted back to Stone Age by her leaders who refuse to invest in her. These leaders leave Africa impoverished by their decisions and choices within their respective countries. They thrive on corruption thereby robbing the people of stability and trust. Then once more like as in Stone-Age, the problems without solutions get referred back to nature. While nature stands still because the challenges are theirs to fathom. Africans now unknowingly hold on to this stone mentality and hold God responsible for every failure instead of her leaders. They express these through different religious inclinations.
Every child deserves a chance to live. It is my hope that leaders in less-developed societies will have a rethink about how funds meant for the masses are spent. Perhaps it is high time more hospitals, better quality of training for healthcare professionals, education for doctors, better research facilities were invested in. The acquisition of resources to meet the selfish needs of our insatiable leaders should be discouraged. Such investment in the relevant medical infrastructure will give every child in Africa as good a shot at living as their counterparts in advanced societies. Surely healthcare should be the right of every African child.