Photo: Michelle and I getting ready for a day of site visits.
It’s been about two weeks since Michelle Pannell and I returned from Ethiopia on our trip with the campaigning organization ONE. We were there to see how foreign aid is spent on programs on the ground, on a trip arranged by ONE.
For much of the time we’ve been back, I’ve been incredibly ill. In addition to the digestive problems many visitors on our trip experienced, I also developed a chest infection and what felt like flu on top of that.
On Monday afternoon last week I was reduced to lying in bed and moaning. A few days later I was ambulatory and speaking to others, almost like a normal person. That was because I had spent Monday morning in an emergency appointment at the doctor’s surgery. I called at 8 a.m., drove 5 minutes to the office (a distance I’d normally cycle in 10), I stopped by the chemist on my shuffle back to the car and was convalescing by lunchtime.
Ironically, when I first started feeling ill, still in Ethiopia, we were visiting a health center. The rural center is part of a program to improve health facilities for rural people. The one we visited serves 170,000 people (!) who mainly get here by walking. One of the biggest obstacles to good healthcare is the distance to a health centre. What a comparison.
Photo: The dirt road we traveled on for an hour to reach the health center
When we pulled up in our minibuses, there were lots of interested eyes peering at us — women holding babies and men wearing their cotton wraps slung round their shoulders to keep off the sun.
In the grassy area in front of the center there stood a mud and grass hut — out of keeping with the modern concrete building behind it. This structure was set up like a traditional house, used to teach healthier practices such as keeping the animals in a separate section and segregating food storage and sleeping areas. (It wasn’t until I visited a villager the next day that the reality of the whole “sheep in your front room” thing came to life for me.)
To my Western eyes it was pretty shocking. But here it represents a huge improvement on the alternative, laboring in a mud hut with no access to equipment or trained medical personnel.
Women and children in the countryside are in desperate need of healthcare, including immunizations and prenatal care. This health center is one part of a program to get services to these remote areas. It works in conjunction with smaller health posts in rural villages that provide basic care and advice. For many villagers, this is their regular healthcare resource, the women working here the only “doctors” they will see.
We were asked to imagine what life was like before these centers and outposts were available. It wasn’t hard for me: if the nearest help for me had been a day’s walk away under a beating sun — a journey I would have had to make with a baby strapped to my back — I’m not sure I would have even been able to attempt it.