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Kenya: a mother’s tough choice

As a mother, which is worse?

To walk for hundreds of kilometres with your sick child to seek unguaranteed medical care or stay at home hoping against nature’s forces that he or she will get better?

This, among  many others, is the tough choice facing many mothers living in northern Kenya.

If they choose to walk  to the nearest health facility, there is the risk their sick child might die on the way. There is also the fear that they both may reach a place of help only to find there is insufficient medical expertise or, worse still, a lack of drugs. But still they walk there, holding on to hope and the knowledge that they tried.

It is this hope that brought the mother of Muktar Mohammed 150km from home to seek help for her desperately ill baby son.

Holding on to hope

Tucked at the near corner of the Wajir East stabilisation centre (that has seemingly been growing smaller by the day as the number of patients increases) is eight-month-old Muktar Mohammed, too frail for a child his age.

Baby Muktar clinging on to life

What draws you first to him is what appears to be normal child play, but on closer look you see it’s the frantic effort to escape from pain as he tries to seek solace under his mother’s veil.

You can barely hear his cry: all you see is his mouth open with no sound escaping his mouth. Just then another jerk marks the struggle that comes with a vomit, which leaves behind a stomach already hurting from an eroded inside.

Muktar’s journey

Muktar was brought in at night from a village close to 150 kilometres away by his mother who had started walking at daybreak the previous day.

The family are pastoralists: their animals provide them with milk and meat and are sold off to raise money to sustain their livelihoods.

But it’s coming up to three months now since the last rainfall. The sun is all out as unforgiving and punishing as always, stealthily drying up the streams and dams.

The little water the community has left has to be secured with a thorny hedge to manage the now fierce competition between the residents and their livestock.

The community needs to share the water with their livestock: after all, their animals are their sole source of income.

On the other hand, people need water to drink; children need water to bathe after a day of play; mothers need water to cook and clean.

But all that’s left is a single dam.

Deadly combination

Diarrhoea is the other ghost that pounces out of hiding just to aggravate an already grave situation.

An upset tummy can quickly claim the life of an already frail child.

It’s the water that is causing all this: when the dam has to be shared between hundreds of villagers and growing herds of cattle, livestock and goats, it’s no wonder that we see babies like Muktar being brought in on a daily basis.

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