The hardest hit, as everywhere, are those who have no choice.
- Theodor Adorno
During my recent mission trip to East Africa through Kenya Relief
, all of the surgeons took turns seeing walk-in patients. The lines were long, but the people were incredibly patient and grateful. A 4-year-old boy had waited for hours with his mother. I sat down and asked her to tell me his story.
Kamau (not his real name) sat quietly, looking back-and-forth from his mother’s face to mine. He appeared very healthy and attentive. Like most of the Kenyan children, he was thin. These kids walk everywhere and have very simple diets.
“How can I help?” I asked.
The translator spoke. “Kamau does not talk and never responds when he is spoken to. At first we thought he was distracted. One time, though, when a motorbike backfired, he didn’t react. We decided he might be deaf.”
Kamau looked around the room and smiled at me. “Have you taken him to see anyone?” I asked, knowing that there were few resources available.
“Oh, yes. We saw a local doctor once, but he couldn’t help. We had hoped you American doctors could do something to make him hear.”
I looked at Kamau, hoping to find something I could fix or recommend. He reached up and touched my ears after I looked in his. Unfortunately, it appeared that he had profound nerve deafness.
In the United States, as soon as a child is found to have hearing loss (often detected in the newborn nursery), a series of events begins and support services begin to take charge. Hearing aids are fitted for appropriate children by the time they are a few months old. Children who need cochlear implants
get started with evaluations early and are soon seen by an otologist, audiologist, speech/language pathologist and psychologist. Surgery and the early follow-up including device programming and training can easily cost
$50,000 to $100,000.
Sub-Saharan Africa bears 24% of the world’s disease burden but has only 3% of the global health workforce
. Health insurance is all but nonexistent. Infrastructure is poorly maintained. Whatever resources exist tend to be aimed at diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
There are no cochlear implant programs in Kenya. Hearing aids, even if available, require batteries, something this family would not be able to afford. I tried in vain to think of something I could offer other than suggesting a trip to the capital city of Nairobi, an insurmountable 240 miles away. “What is possible, doctor? What can you do for Kamau?”
He was deaf, but I was speechless.
“I am sorry, Ma’am. I have nothing to offer Kamau, other than to tell you he is a very handsome boy.” The mother smiled weakly but thanked me profusely. She picked up her son and started the long walk home.
The following is feedback received for this blog:
Nice post, keep going
- prakash j