We had the chance to sit down with Dr. Namala Mkopi, a pediatrician in Tanzania and the first [email protected] Champion. As the [email protected] Champion, he will spend time working with RESULTS on child and maternal health advocacy around the world. Dr. Mkopi works at the National Hospital in Tanzania and on World Pnuemonia Day, we’re excited to share some of his powerful words on how health is changing.
At ONE the stories we like to tell are sort of “before and after” stories. In the 10 years that you’ve been a pediatrician in Tanzania, what was it like when you started and what’s noticeably changed now?
Dr. Mkopi: In our National Hospital we have a ward particularly for diarrhea cases, which was usually full to capacity in the past. And “full” didn’t mean 15 children occupying all 15 beds available. No, it meant having 45 children occupying 15 beds, meaning many children were sharing beds. Without a vaccine for rotavirus, many children were dying from diarrhea, exacerbated by preexisting malnutrition. That’s how things used to be.
Today children are still dying, but at a much smaller rate. As I was coming to the US, I left one child in the ward. Just one child. It has never happened before to have one child in the ward.
It’s not something that we like to brag about, but it’s something that makes us reflect on what is happening.
Another illness we often observe is pneumonia. Sometimes, many children will be admitted to the ward with pneumonia – often severe pneumonia – needing oxygen. We are making sure that we have enough oxygen available. This has been achieved thanks to the significant efforts of the U.S., Norway, and the other countries. In these countries, decision-makers are making such an incredible effort to see things happen. It’s so unfortunate that they’re not there to witness it. So, we who see it would like to share the story and let them know what they’re doing is—it’s a noble cause. It’s a noble cause.
One of the things that we like to do the most at ONE is to share the impact of investing in what’s going on across the continent, on the ground. Why do you think for you, as a healthcare worker in Tanzania, is it important to be an advocate?
I may not be able to do much. As a pediatrician, though, I’ve seen so much tragedy that I think is important to share. Many of the children might come into my ward too late. They might die in my hands, and many kids have died in my hands. And that is not a very beautiful picture that you want to keep in your head every day. I have a family, I have a child, and I have a wife. And I see other people’s kids in the ward, and I see other people’s wives are crying and other husbands with their kids in the hospital. It’s not a very beautiful sight. I feel like this could be my son. In the sense of that feeling and that understanding, I recognize the importance of advocacy because I know that I can’t do it all—I can only be in this hospital.
I cannot help a child who has been seen in other regions by a nurse assistant because there is no doctor there. I can only help the children in my ward.