Most of us, somewhere along the way, have borne witness to the profound frailty of flesh. It could be that you’ve been touched by suicide, or that you’ve watched an elder die, or that violence, with or without design, has crashed and thrashed its way into your life.
In some parts of the world, a phalanx of sanitizers works tirelessly to rid us of such baggage. From smooth roads to American Idol, inconsequential drug abuse to reliable plumbing, there’s a mental and physical aesthetic that, incidentally or not, works well in the slow but sure subversion of most people’s trauma.
In other parts of the world, there is no such aesthetic. It has been smashed by corruption and politics and conflict, and only then if it existed to begin with. In its absence are all the many provocations of death.
There is, for example, a correlation between open sewers and cholera. There is a relationship between haggard roads and the piles of bodies that frequently gather at their sides. An unfinished building is not a far cry from a homeless person, who himself is much akin to an armed robber, who again brings to mind a frenzied, deadly mob of vigilantes. Perhaps most sadly of all, there is a clear and present connection between poverty and dead children.
Which brings us to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital’s emergency children’s ward. It’s a tiny place run by frustrated workers, their gripes wide and ranging, from lack of equipment and overcrowding, to low pay and long hours.
In here, the aesthetic is startling. It’s tiny kids curled up under small blankets, a few to a bed, one of them convulsing, his eyes glazed even as his brow furrows in contraction. It’s cribs that look like the baskets of bicycles. It’s only one incubator.
“Every day, some children die here,” says Professor Bamenla Goka, head of the hospital’s child care department. “Most of the children coming in with medical problems are from the lower socio-economic group, which is understandable because many of the illnesses that we see are related to poverty in one way or the other.”
Those children who do die at Korle Bu, they usually go within the first 24 hours of their stay. Sometimes the first 12. Maybe their parents have not signed up for insurance, and, rather than bear care costs they couldn’t afford, they wasted precious time administering home medicine.
“We all agree that the emergency ward in Korle Bu is quite small, but it has made a name and everyone wants to go there,” says Dr. Afisah Zakariah, head of the Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate of the Ministry of Health.
It’s a tertiary hospital, she continues, which means it’s a referral centre, and patients overburden the place when they skip the primary and secondary institutions. As for salaries, nurses make two or three times that of civil servants. She finds their complaints offensive. She also says Korle Bu has a budget to procure its own equipment, and, besides, a needs assessment of a year ago will deliver new equipment soon.
“The waiting has gone on for too long,” says Goka. “The emergency room is inhumane for the patients who are there, their parents, and for the staff, so we are appealing that the emergency room refurbishment is done by all means.”
Meanwhile, some children die everyday.
“Now we have to focus on an audit of child death, so that we actually see what is going on,” says Zakariah. “If every day we lose a child, then we really need to sit up and see what is going.”
Which brings us back to aesthetics. Healthiness is a holistic state of being. It’s biology interfacing with lifestyle and infrastructure, interfacing with development.
“So paying attention to people’s education, housing, and food availability will all help to keep people healthy,” says Goka.