Mas­sage gives in­fants breath of life in Ivory Coast

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

A mother from a work­ing­class district of Abidjan watches fear­fully while the phys­io­ther­a­pist presses down on the tho­rax and ab­domen of her cry­ing, strug­gling baby to help him breathe.

Un­der the health worker’s ex­pert hands, the in­fant grad­u­ally ex­pels the se­cre­tions clog­ging up his lungs through his nose and mouth. His mother looks as­ton­ished and the ther­a­pist keeps work­ing un­til her child’s air­ways are com­pletely clear.

Res­pi­ra­tory phys­io­ther­apy is crit­i­cally needed in Ivory Coast where pneu­mo­nia is sec­ond only to malaria as a killer of ba­bies and tod­dlers.

The char­ity Agis (Association Graine d’Ivoire et Sante), founded in 2010 by Aboubakar Sylla, a phys­io­ther­a­pist him­self, trains vol­un­teer staff in the mas­sage tech­niques to serve the poorer neigh­bor­hoods of the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal and towns in the in­te­rior of the west African coun­try.

Their work is linked in with med­i­cal con­sul­ta­tions and “schools for moth­ers”, where women are taught how to help keep their lit­tle ones safe from in­fec­tion and to treat them if they fall sick.

Af­fects chil­dren un­der five

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ports that res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions in 2015 claimed the lives of more than 900,000 chil­dren un­der the age of five around the globe. In Ivory Coast, such in­fec­tions are es­ti­mated to have killed more than 11,000 young­sters in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est avail­able count.

The An­nual Re­port on the Health Sit­u­a­tion (RASS) for 2014 and 2015 mean­while showed that the num­ber of acute res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions rose to more than 202 cases per 1,000 chil­dren in 2015 from 165 per 1,000 in 2014.

Res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions are “the sec­ond cause of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion in pe­di­atric ser­vices. Af­ter malaria, it’s the sec­ond cause of mor­tal­ity” among Ivo­rian chil­dren un­der five, says Max Valere Itchi, a doc­tor at CHU of Cocody, one of the main hos­pi­tals in Abidjan.

In the coun­try­side the death toll has wors­ened due to a lack of funds and equip­ment. Chil­dren are usu­ally taken to hospi­tal only when their case is very se­ri­ous and more dif­fi­cult to cure, doc­tors say. “This is par­tic­u­larly re­gret­table since many cases could have been avoided with a lit­tle pre­ven­tion,” says Sylla, tak­ing part in his Agis association’s cam­paign in the poor Koumassi district of Abidjan.

Don’t sweep with baby on back

In the court­yard of the city’s gen­eral hospi­tal, sev­eral dozen moth­ers show up early one morn­ing to wait un­der tents put up to pro­vide shelter from the rain Some are car­ry­ing their ba­bies on their backs.

Es­theti­cian Monique Zabia has brought two chil­dren with her. “Ev­ery day they have colds and they have runny noses,” says Zabia, who is dis­cov­er­ing the meth­ods of the phys­io­ther­a­pists for the first time. “She has a cold all the time and she coughs in spite med­i­ca­tion,” says an­other mother, Linda Akele, who brought her three-year-old daugh­ter “to ex­per­i­ment” with the mas­sage tech­niques.

Three days later, a sim­i­lar scene takes place in At­te­coube, an­other low-in­come neigh­bor­hood in Abidjan, where health staff give ad­vice to women as well as treat­ments to the kids.

Young mother Saly lis­tened at­ten­tively to a vol­un­teer nurse while her 14-mon­thold baby sat calmly at her feet. “Don’t carry the child on your back to sweep the house or to light the fire. Oth­er­wise the dust and the smoke are still go­ing to give him colds,” the nurse pa­tiently tells the women.

Sylla, who de­ploys one or more prac­tic­ing doc­tors to take part in each Agis op­er­a­tion, ex­plains that the vol­un­teers “also teach the women how to give the mas­sages them­selves.”

He stresses how­ever that phys­io­ther­apy is not the pri­mary treat­ment. “Peo­ple need to see their doc­tor. Med­i­ca­tion is the pri­mary means of treat­ment. Phys­io­ther­apy is com­ple­men­tary to that. Stud­ies have shown that when phys­io­ther­apy is added to treat­ment with drugs, it speeds up re­cov­ery and brings res­pi­ra­tory com­fort to the child,” he says.

The char­ity’s head is keen to see a fullfledged gov­ern­ment pol­icy to help the chil­dren in dis­tress. “There is not enough money de­voted to the bat­tle against pneu­mo­nia.” His Agis association is en­tirely de­pen­dent on vol­un­teer med­i­cal staff, whose num­bers vary ac­cord­ing to the work­load and lo­ca­tion. The char­ity is funded by pri­vate do­na­tions and pa­trons such as a com­pany which may step for­ward to fi­nance op­er­a­tions in a spe­cific district. —AFP

ABIDJAN: Med­i­cal staff treat a child for breath­ing prob­lems us­ing phys­i­cal ther­apy on March 17, 2016 dur­ing tests to di­ag­nose pneu­mo­nia for chil­dren un­til age five in a health cen­tre in the At­te­coube neigh­bor­hood. —AFP

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