The treatment of infectious diseases, especially malaria, constitutes the vast majority of medical care throughout Africa. While the number of those injured in accidents is small in comparison, the lack of access to surgical expertise results in deaths, deformities and disabilities that are unimaginable to those of us in the United States.
Peg and I are known in the villages surrounding Sikonge to be physicians working with Adopt-a-Village. As we make our “orphan rounds” through the district it is not unusual for a parent, teacher, or village elder to present us with a child in need of corrective surgery. Many of these children have orthopedic problems caused by an untreated fracture that occurred years earlier. As the bone heals in an abnormal position it leaves the child with a deformity that too often results in major disability.
Adam is a typical example. His left arm was broken at age 5 in a farming accident. Orthopedic treatment was not available, and as the fracture healed it left him with a useless extremity, a major disability for a young boy who had wanted to be a farmer. The deformity was also a source of constant embarrassment; he kept it continually covered with a long sleeved shirt. Accompanied by his father, Adam went to the regional hospital in Urambo for surgical correction. While the repair is not pretty, his arm is again totally functional.
Alfonse’s leg was broken during infancy and never properly set. We met him while visiting orphans attending primary school with funding provided by Adopt-a-Village. He had learned to walk using a tree branch as a cane. Alfonse is waiting until the end of the school year in June for his corrective surgery.
Even more distressing are the children with tumors, both benign and malignant, that through poverty or ignorance have been neglected for too long. While making orphan rounds at the primary school in Kabanga the head mistress presented us with a child who had had a malignant tumor of his left eye for nearly a year. His parents had sought medical attention but were given only medications. He now requires major surgery at the referral hospital in Dar es Salaam.
We initially refer surgical patients to the Sikonge Moravian Hospital. While the doctors there are not trained surgeons, they have learned to treat many of the basic problems typically confronted in a rural area. When more serious difficulties are encountered, such as the boy with the eye malignancy, we consult directly with Dr. Benedict Ruhamya.
Dr. Ruhamya, an accomplished physician and the head of the orphan program, was until recently the doctor in charge of the Sikonge Moravian Hospital. Through his years of experience with the medical community throughout his country, he is able to refer patients to the appropriate hospital for treatment. His expertise has been invaluable in guiding multiple children, as well as adults, to the appropriate facility.
Orphans, such as Adam and Alphonse, who are in need of surgery, usually present only a logistic problem; the orphan “Mamas” arrange with their families for their transportation and post operative care. Adopt-a-Village pays their expenses. Non-orphans represent a challenge of an entirely difficult magnitude. While no less deserving, there is no program available to pay for their treatment.
Access to modern medical care is incomprehensible to families whose entire lives have been spent in one village; they know nothing of the availability of treatment options, the cost of which is usually far beyond their means. It is only due to the generosity of North American Moravians, coupled with the experience of physicians at the Sikonge Moravian Hospital, that these children are receiving the care they need to become functional, productive citizens of their developing country.
Drs. Bill and Peg Hoffman send periodic reports of the work going on in Tanzania through the Adopt-A-Village program.
From the September 2014 Moravian Magazine