We were let past the blue locked gate. Two land rovers of Mercy ships crew equipped with face paint, colored pencils, soccer balls, and jump ropes. We were greeted by a collection of twenty moms and children sat under a tin awning. A thin dirt road lead us to a brick two story building. The walls were painted with contrasting picture messages.
“Keep our community clean” picture: a clean city with neatly filled trash cans.
“A dirty community” picture: a city littered with trash.
“A planned family” picture: A hardworking neatly dressed husband if featured inside a comfortable home kissing his wife who is holding the hand of a single child.
“An unplanned family.” picture: A disheveled man is on the beach with a woman. The woman is pregnant, has a child strapped to her back and is holding the hands of two small children. The man and woman are positioned in a stand-offish manner.
“No money services” was painted on every wall. It featured a crossed out picture of a woman who was carrying a child giving a medical personnel five Liberian dollars.
I walked up the steps and into the building. It was like most Liberian buildings. Broken and rundown. The side effects of civil war.
Hand crafted renditions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pinocchio, and Donald Duck were painted on the inside walls. A three foot plastic container of water with an attached spicket labeled “hand washing water” sat in front of a cramped nurses station. The floors were as clean as they could be kept but were filthy by American standards. An American infectious disease nurse would probably need a sedative to walk through the hall. But the hospital can only utilize the resources they have. They just very little resources.
I began to walk down the halls. The rooms each had four or five beds. Each bed was covered by a green mosquito netting, had no linens, and was home to two patients. The pediatric hospital I was standing in had 120 beds and housed 240 children. This was a medical facility only. No surgical procedures were performed.
Children in Liberia don’t have the luxuries of western children. Western children are hospitalized because they have a compromised body. A strange blood disease, a tumor, and respiratory infection. Maybe a trauma.
Liberian children are hospitalized for malnourishment and malaria. Two preventable conditions.
This unit treated malnourished children. The extremely malnourished were in a different part of the hospital. These were the stronger children. Their arms were small and thin. Their bellies large and bloated. Some had IV’s protruding form their foreheads. Most were under the age of two.
In America, physical malnourishment of children is generally associated with some form of child abuse. Many mother’s here were teenagers. Loving teenage mothers. Rape was made illegal in Liberia last year. Many of these woman did not choose to be mothers. But they sit and coo and play and make their babies smile the same way an American mother would. The fact they have malnourished children has nothing to do with abuse. They just don’t have food to give their babies. So they watch their babies get sick. And many watch them die. While we visited the ward children nurse’s and doctors in the emergency room were performing CPR on a small baby who wasn’t responding.
I assure the mother’s pain was acute as any American mother‘s.
You would be shocked at the lack of physical resources in Liberia. But that’s not what made me sad today. I was sad that I met a hundred children with healthy bodies. Healthy bodies that were sick simply because they were starving bodies. Children that had bowed legs and big bellies secondary to poverty. A hospital full of kids who didn’t need sophisticated medical care. They needed food.
While America begins to address the downfalls of childhood obesity.