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Heartbreak and hope in Angola

angola2A-981137E.jpg
UNICEF/ HQ98-1137/Giacomo Pirozzi
In this photo, taken during a different trip, a girl is examined at one of the many hospitals and health clinics in Angola that receive vaccines and other essential supplies from UNICEF.

Adam Fifield is visiting UNICEF programs in Angola and Swaziland and phoned in this dispatch.

We saw Maria on Tuesday. The U.S. Fund delegation visiting Angola was observing UNICEF-supported services at a pediatric hospital in the southern city of Lubango. In a small room off a corridor, a tiny, striking child”too tiny to be 15 months of age”lay in a bed near a window. Feeding tubes snaked out of her little body. Her wide eyes stared at some other place. Rows of scars marked her stomach”evidence of a traditional healing ritual.

Sitting next to her on the bed, Maria’s mother quietly watched her daughter cling to life. Maria suffered from severe malnutrition and diarrhea. Because she was taken to traditional healers and brought to the hospital only as a last resort, her chances did not look good.

On Thursday, we learned that Maria had died. The burdens of malnutrition, diarrhea, and perhaps other complications were too much for her to withstand”especially because she had not been taken to the hospital until she was very sick.

We did not know Maria, or her family, but we know she was an innocent child who deserved the right to live. Her death”the death of any child”is an unnatural, world-splitting event. In Angola, it is also horrifically commonplace.

angola2A-981137E.jpg
UNICEF/ HQ98-1137/Giacomo Pirozzi
In this photo, taken during a different trip, a girl is examined at one of the many hospitals and health clinics in Angola that receive vaccines and other essential supplies from UNICEF.

Adam Fifield is visiting UNICEF programs in Angola and Swaziland and phoned in this dispatch.

We saw Maria on Tuesday. The U.S. Fund delegation visiting Angola was observing UNICEF-supported services at a pediatric hospital in the southern city of Lubango. In a small room off a corridor, a tiny, striking child”too tiny to be 15 months of age”lay in a bed near a window. Feeding tubes snaked out of her little body. Her wide eyes stared at some other place. Rows of scars marked her stomach”evidence of a traditional healing ritual.

Sitting next to her on the bed, Maria’s mother quietly watched her daughter cling to life. Maria suffered from severe malnutrition and diarrhea. Because she was taken to traditional healers and brought to the hospital only as a last resort, her chances did not look good.

On Thursday, we learned that Maria had died. The burdens of malnutrition, diarrhea, and perhaps other complications were too much for her to withstand”especially because she had not been taken to the hospital until she was very sick.

We did not know Maria, or her family, but we know she was an innocent child who deserved the right to live. Her death”the death of any child”is an unnatural, world-splitting event. In Angola, it is also horrifically commonplace. Fortunately, at the UNICEF-supported hospital where Maria was treated, there were many other malnourished children who were improving and were expected to recover.

On Thursday night, we went to a mountaintop monument overlooking Lubango. As the lights of the city shimmered below, we stood in a circle”all 18 of us”and held hands. Country representative Angela Kearney asked that we all wish for a better Angola. She asked that we think of Maria, and that we all do whatever we can to help other children like her.

On this field visit, we have seen misery and tragedy, but we have also seen hope. On Wednesday at the UNICEF-supported Matala health center”a collection of buildings on a dusty patch of sun-baked ground in rural Huila province”dozens of UNICEF boxes lined the hallways. We met a mother who sat on a bed, smiling as she cradled her newborn. The child was only 30 minutes old. Because the mother had all her vaccinations, both she and the baby are free of tetanus and other life-threatening illnesses.

On Thursday, we visited the seaside town of Namibe and a maternity hospital, which receives significant UNICEF support. The hospital had seen several recent cases of maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT)”all of them fatal. But there was also a mother being treated there who had just given birth to her second set of twins. She, too, had all her vaccinations, including three tetanus shots, and her babies now have a good start on life.

Angola is a country emerging from decades of war: rebuilding, reinventing”and UNICEF is there to help Angola get back on its feet. And to help insure that, as Angola rises, its children rise with it.

As one of my fellow travelers, donor and U.S. Fund Midwest Regional Board member Joe Silich, put it: “I saw some real hope yesterday. With growth there is a future that is incredibly bright. We can make a difference. We can save kids’ lives.

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