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Zambia

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Here comes the medical bus!

Big queues at the SOS Mobile Clinic in Chipata, which makes 13 visits to rural communities in Chipata every month
Big queues at the SOS Mobile Clinic in Chipata, which makes 13 visits to rural communities in Chipata every month

Visits have stepped up for Cosmas Lungu and his team at the SOS Mobile Clinic. The clinic, known affectionately as the “medical bus” tours Chipata district, providing care to children under 15 in rural communities which otherwise lack reliable access to healthcare.

Between July and October last year, visits increased from five to 13 a month. Poverty is 20% higher in rural Zambia than in urban areas – in a country where two thirds live in poverty. More than a quarter suffer from HIV, and malnutrition affects many children, with stunting higher in Chipata than the average across Eastern Province.

“We can provide immediate care”

Cosmas seeing a young patient at the medical bus in Chipata, ZambiaFor Cosmas, it is precisely the scale of the problem that makes the job rewarding. “This is why I enjoy working in the field with the Mobile Clinic,” he says. “Our team gets to come to where the problems are and we can provide immediate care.” As a retiree from the Zambian army – Cosmas's full title is “lieutenant colonel” – this means a lot. “I could either sit at home or I could actually make a difference by using my skills to treat the children in my programme.”

The need is great, but Cosmas and the team work fast. Despite their speed, what is striking is the quality of care they deliver. Often, parents have already taken their children to hospital, only to be turned away or misdiagnosed. Today, Cosmas has seen 20 children in the last hour – but his attention to detail proves lifesaving for many of his young patients.

“A little boy cannot live on tomatoes”

A tired Emelina arrives with her 19-month-old son Michael, who has been suffering from diarrhoea. His feet are round and puffy, and when Cosmas tickles and pinches Michael, he doesn't respond. “I took him to the hospital and they told me he has anorexia,” says Emelina.

One look tells Cosmas that Michael is not anorexic. He asks Emelina for a little more information. “The father left and I am not managing to feed my four children,” she says. “I am sick but I sell tomatoes on the street to make money. It is not enough to feed my children, but Michael does not have an appetite.”

Cosmas explains that an inadequate diet has left Michael malnourished. Malnutrition in turn leaves children vulnerable to infection, and this accounts for the diarrhoea. Cosmas prescribes medication for the symptoms – but it is the simple advice to mix groundnuts into Michael's porridge that will prove critical long term. “A little boy cannot live on tomatoes,” he says.

From the casebook...

Case 1: Justin

Justin receives medical care at the SOS Mobile Clinic in Chipata, ZambiaWhen Nzama took five-year-old Justin to the hospital with leg pain in 2013 they decided not to investigate. Since then, Justin's legs have got thinner and thinner. After some basic questioning, Cosmas is concerned Justin may be suffering from a neurological condition.

“We have a scheme with the general hospital and I am referring you to them now,” he says to Nzama. “I want a neurologist to check on Justin's nerves – they must do X-rays and check his bloodwork so that we can get a full picture of what is going on.” After prescribing painkillers for the discomfort, Cosmas adds Justin to his worry list and makes sure the case is followed up.

Case 2: Miya

Miya receives medical attention at the SOS Mobile Clinic in Chipata, ZambiaMatilda arrives with her four-year-old sister Miya, who has been sneezing, coughing and complaining of tummy ache. According to her sister, Miya is a good eater, and after examining Miya, Cosmas decides that the symptoms are not related. At this time of year there is a lot of dust in the air, so respiratory symptoms are very common – a bit like during hayfever season in the UK.

After looking at her records, he decides the tummy ache is caused by worms. “This girl hasn't been to the clinic since December 2013,” explains Cosmas. “Children need to be dewormed every six months.” Worms are easily treated but if left unchecked can be serious. Sadly, poor sanitation and a lack of clean water leaves Chipata's children at a high risk of contracting worms.

Quality healthcare for the hardest to reach

As you can see, healthcare is hard to come by for people living in Chipata's isolated rural areas. When people are able to get to hospital, they are often turned away or misdiagnosed, and this can have serious or even life-threatening consequences for children.

The medical bus means that even children growing up in the remotest parts of Chipata can stay healthy. Unsurprisingly, the bus creates quite a hubbub, drawing big crowds on arrival. But the team work efficiently and conscientiously so that parents can be confident that their children are getting the treatment they need.

Be part of Chipata

The medical bus is just one of our many projects across Chipata. From providing homes for the most vulnerable children at our Children's Village, to helping fragile families in the community, supporters like you make amazing work possible for society's most disadvantaged members.

You can be part of Chipata by sponsoring a child. Find out what you can achieve through child sponsorship...

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