“When Ibrahim was little, he was coughing badly for a long time. The traditional healer told us to make small cuts on his skin at the joints—elbows, shoulders, knees, and more—to let the ‘bad blood’ out.” Sheikh Muhammad Ali, a 45-year- old community leader, didn’t know how to help his son. He and his family were living in a camp for displaced people in Darfur, Sudan, where poverty and illness feed off each other.
“We tried the bloodletting and other traditional things. But it didn’t work,” says Muhammad.
Ten years ago, when thousands of families first crowded into Darfur’s camps, there were few medical options. Many turned to hit-or-miss traditional remedies, or simply hoped for the best. For life-threatening problems like scorpion stings, difficult childbirth, and malaria, camp residents were at the mercy of fate.
With support from ACT/Caritas, local partner like Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) started primary care clinics in many camps for Darfuris who fled violence. There, trained medical staff treat young and old for at no cost.
In a room at one clinic, a boy waits with his mother for the results of his malaria test. A 3-cm-long plastic rectangle holds a drop of his blood. If one line shows up on the white plastic surface of the rectangle, he’s OK. If two lines appear, he’s got malaria.
The likelihood of this “depends on the season,” says Howida, a Norwegian Church Aid staffer. “Right now it’s dry, and we see a lot of respiratory disease and skin infections. In the rainy season, there’s malaria.” Malaria medicine costs upwards of 70 Sudanese pounds (8 euros) in the market, but at the clinic, it’s free.
In another room, babies receive drops of polio and rotavirus vaccines (rotavirus causes diarrhea, which can be a killer in Darfur). They also get a shot for hepatitis and other diseases.
Nearby, pregnant women sit on benches outside, waiting for their turn to see the antenatal assistant. Inside, they have their blood pressure checked, and attendants listen for the baby’s heartbeat.
In one clinic’s delivery room, a midwife named Higmat nurses her own baby. She’s been to trainings funded by ACT/Caritas, and knows how to check for difficult pregnancies. She makes sure women take folic acid, receive a tetanus shot, and prepare in other ways for a healthy baby. Higmat and other staff also distribute clean delivery kits with basic items like cloth and a sterile razor blade.
“If a woman wants to have her baby at home, I go there,” she says. “People come to me in the middle of the night and I help them.”
Camp residents are grateful for the care they receive. “NCA has always helped us,” say community leaders at a camp called Khamsadagaig. “We thank them a lot.”
At the clinics’ dispensaries, people can also pick up free medicine. Transferring medicine can be difficult and even dangerous in Darfur, but NCA staff work to keep the shelves well-stocked.
Most of the medicine that women receive is for their children. But some adults have chronic medical problems related to gunshot wounds, rape, and beatings from the past.
The clinic is where Muhammad and his wife turned when their son Ibrahim’s cough didn’t respond to other remedies. The medical staff “diagnosed respiratory illness, and gave us some medicine,” Muhammad remembers.
Within a few days, Ibrahim was improving. “When we realized he was getting better, I was so happy,” he says. “And my wife was even happier.”
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