Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Fluid of Life

Water is generally recognized as being pretty important. I mean, typically as humans we drink it, cook with it, wash our hands, clothes and bodies with it (as well as anything else we decide to wash), play in it, and water our plants and animals with it. It's great stuff; very useful.

Water in Chad is important, of course. It's hot here, so we drink lots of it. Because it's currently hot and dry, we get dusty and sweaty, so frequent washing of clothes and bodies is kind of necessary. And the river sounds more appealing every day, it seems. Even if it is filthy. (I didn't actually care about the filth anyway; I getting in water).

Dehydration is kind of a common chronic state here, I guess. So we tell patients to drink water. But there are some patients that we tell (or beg, or order) not to drink water.

Babies in Chad have it pretty rough. They're tiny, fragile, and they're just trying to figure out what it means to be a human on planet earth. They have to fight against malaria, giardia, typhoid fever, all manner of other parasites, heat, dehydration, and the list goes on. All of those parasites and things don't care if you're tiny, adorable and perfect. I'm sure glad I'm not a baby in Chad. Anyway, just one more thing for babies to fight against is water. Because it is a common practice here to give young babies water to drink in addition to (and sometimes, heaven forbid, instead of) breastfeeding. I don't know all of the reasons why this is a problem, but I do know that babies grow fast, and they need a lot of nutrition. Milk contains the nutrition that they need, and breast milk in particular provides them with immunity and antibodies from the mother that help their developing immune system. If babies are getting water instead of milk, they are obviously getting less nutrition. So giving water to babies is a big contributor to malnutrition. And a malnourished baby doesn't have as much reserve to resist disease.

This week at the hospital I saw a young mother, her baby, and her mother. The baby was adorable; she was two months old, and skinny, but so cute. As we were discussing what we could do for the baby, the grandmother started to give the baby water. I was horrified. I know that this happens a lot here, and I'm sure that I'll see it again, maybe many times, but this was my first time seeing it. I quickly told her to stop and explained that babies that young need only milk, not water. I don't know how much French she understood, but she stopped. And one of the staff nearby followed up with a Nangéré explanation as well. Beyond that, all we could do was send them to the correct area of the hospital to get the help that they needed. I sure hope they didn't keep giving the baby water. She was so tiny and cute.

I wish I could explain to all of the women in Chad why they shouldn't give their babies water.