Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What if?

The other night, a live baby girl was born. She wasn’t perfectly healthy; she needed oxygen. In the United States, otherwise healthy newborn babies receive oxygen all the time. It’s very easy to administer and relatively cheap. Even here, we have oxygen. But what we don’t have is consistent power and oxygen can’t be administered without power. Just as the jeep pulled up to the hospital with the inverter that would fix the hospital’s solar energy allowing for 24 hour power, the baby girl died. The team had gone to extraordinary lengths to try to save her without oxygen. They did everything they possibly could –even trying to hook up a computer battery to power the oxygen. But it didn’t work. Possibly the worst part was, her father slept nearby not showing that he cared at all that his daughter was dying. If it had been a son, he might have reacted differently. It’s absolutely unfair that this baby girl died. She could have lived. She should have lived. If this were not one of the most remote and poor regions of the world, the baby girl would have lived.

For me, this speaks to the structural violence that ravages Achham. Living here can seem peaceful – the people are wonderful and generous human beings, the views are absolutely stunning, and there is no shortage of dedicated hope in Bayalpata Hospital. Yet, the structural violence is still here.

While accompanying Dr. Paul Farmer and team to Sanfe, the nearby community, we stopped for tea at one of the local shops. Young boys, no more than 12 years old, were serving us. We asked the manager whether they went to school and were told that they “didn’t want to go to school.” Of course, I’m not sure I’d want to go to school either if it meant walking 2 hours each way and then returning home to spend several hours helping in the fields and with the household chores.

But I can’t help but think “what if.” What if someone had said said that about Dr. Roshen- the absolutely incredible Achhami doctor who serves Bayalpata Hospital? What if the family of the clearly anemic and severely malnourished young girl I met the other day earned more than $1 a day? What if there was a clean and consistent source of water so children weren’t so at risk of developing typhoid? What if the government decided that health should be a human right? What if we, as people with more than enough, decided to distribute this wealth just a little bit more equitably?

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