Amuria Health Centre has been packed beyond capacity in recent weeks, with more people occupying the floors than hospital beds. As the rains continue to fall, more and more people here contract malaria. During the rainy season, when streams rise and lowland areas become flooded, mosquitoes breed in greater numbers.
This health centre’s resources (Amuria has no official hospital) are stretched thin even outside the rainy season. The entire district of over 300,000 shares just one doctor for all its public health centres. He travels around from village to village and is rarely in one place for more than a day. When medicine and supplies are available, the cost is picked up by the government. When they run out, which is all too often, the only option for patients is to pay cash for drips, drugs, and needles from the local pharmacy and bring them to the hospital. “Most of the time the drugs are out of stock because the patients are many and the drugs are few,” says nurse Damali Akello.
Amuria town’s health centre is the largest in the district of the same name. Patients from all over the district are sent to this, the largest town in the district, in order to treat ailments of any kind requiring more advanced treatment. “Severe malaria they refer here,” says nurse Akello.
“Usually six months out of the year I have it pretty consistently. I am always attacked when the rains come,” says Grace Auma, while connected to a drip of sodium chloride mixed with quinine. Pictured above, she’s spent the last two nights on the concrete floor of the centre, her pillow a plastic bag stuffed with a change of clothes brought from home.
Children and pregnant mothers, those whose immune systems are weak, are most susceptible to malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 2,800 children die every day in Africa as a result of the disease. Here in Amuria, nurse Agnes Alungat sees the most deaths when malaria is present alongside other health problems. “We only lost one child the day before because of malaria complicated with anemia.”
Earlier this year, Bill Gates announced that his foundation was in the last trial phase of a malaria vaccine that could change the future of Africa and other continents affected by the disease. It is hoped that within five to ten years a fully effective vaccine will be on the market and available to all. In the mean time, seeking treatment and doing so early is the key. I know this from personal experience, and it seems that all here in the centre tonight know this as well. Thankfully for now it it looks as though everyone here is going to pull through.