His face was sunken; his eyes bulged and twitched. He could barely hold up his head on the Dora-the-Explorer bed sheets. His mother looked exhausted and defeated. It was old man’s syndrome. I thought he wouldn’t make it.
We were receiving a tour of a third hospital. I was particularly interested in the Children’s Ward, which was crowded with children and their families. Families stuck together – patients would make the journey here, some all the way from Kabul, with mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles – a full support system. Though it was crowded, sometimes with three patients to a bed, I was impressed with the efficiency and determination of the young, overworked doctors. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about all the doctors I met there.
A doctor led us around Children’s B ward, which consisted of two admit patient rooms, a rehydration unit and a recently built malnutrition unit. A nutritionist within proudly informed us that UNICEF had funded and built the malnutrition unit in 2009. And athough it was built as a part of the government-run hospital, its nurses, staff and doctors were funded by UNICEF. It was small and well run, with our childhood cartoons lining the walls. A mini playground of sorts occupied a corner of the ward, with a swing and slide for the many children who went in and out of the ward.
Our tour finished with a show of the large outdoor lawn, which held a few chairs and benches. I couldn’t stop thinking about the old child. The next day I began my work in the Emergency Patient Services unit – a five-minute walk from the Children’s Ward. Three days later I found myself back at UNICEF’s malnutrition unit. I had to see what had become of the child. Expecting the worst, I braced myself. The marasmus, or protein and calorie deficient child, was alive and being discharged that day. The pure joy that follows relief could be seen and felt in the mother’s presence; a smile lit up her face as the child laughed on cue at her tickles. She called me over, encouraging me to take pictures of her saved child. The $50,000 malnutrition unit had saved her child and many before. UNICEF had made yet another difference.