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Nick Wood

03 Oct 2000

Nick Wood is a paediatrician and worked in South Sudan

The dark storm clouds on the horizon at dusk are typical of the wet season in Sudan. On this particular day, however, the wind which normally heralds the daily drenching of our compound abated – almost in reverence to Tik, the eight-year-old Dinka boy who was walking home with his stiff legged gait, leaning on his father and a stick. A simple leg wound had translated into three weeks of painful muscle spasms in the form of tetanus. After treatment with diazepam, antibiotics, and nutritional support, he was finally going home. But first he had to stop at a mud hut housing the EPI (Expanded Programme of Immunisation) for a tetnus toxoid vaccine. Tik is one of our success stories.

In another of our mud huts in a remote area in civil war-torn southern Sudan, we run a therapeutic feeding centre. One of the most vulnerable groups in a developing country is children under five years of age. In the feeding centre, children who are acutely unwell are managed according to their weight-for-height index. With managed protocols and less medicine than you would think, they gain weight daily and their smiles return along with their health. Working as a paediatrician in isolated areas with Médecins Sans Frontières is very difficult but also extremely rewarding. The experience is about more than just acute paediatric medicine. The political, social and environmental contexts all have an impact out here in the bush. The rigors seen at the height of malarial parasitemia and the respiratory distress of acute pneumonia are just as vivid as the grimaces of the neonate with tetanus, yet each day we see such cases. We have some successes. We have some failures. But with the help of the local Sudanese staff and the backing of Médecins Sans Frontières, we are making a difference.