Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dealing with Children

Alex Buttgenbach

I’m back!  After going in and out of sickness over the past three weeks I thought a good place to start was where I believe I recently picked up a cold: at the primary school.  The health center was doing vaccinations for the measles in the whole community the week of Thanksgiving.  Although vaccinations are not part of my job, helping out in community wide efforts can be considered part of my job as is helping out with the health center.  In the United States, vaccinations are taken care of at a doctors office, health center or hospital, but in rural Cameroon, the health center has to actively seek out children and keep note of who was vaccinated by marking houses with chalk.  This vaccination was a little different.  We went to the schools to vaccinate each class and set up shop in the center of town at the Chiefs house. 

I was mostly active at the primary school, which was truly amusing to be a part of.  Usually the polio vaccinations are given orally through an eye dropper and don't encourage a lot of resistance form the young children.  However with the measles, the nurse gave them shots, and the kids were not excited about that.  Now in Cameroon, crying is highly looked down upon even among young children and immediately made fun of, thus each student was expected to take the shot as stoically as possible.  One of the health workers actually bullied the children who started crying and told them they were going to get two shots if they did not stop.  Ironically, the little kids starting at five years old often did the best job at not crying.  It was the twelve year olds that began to lose their minds when they saw the syringe.

Thus one of my jobs was holding down the children who were not convinced of the health benefits.  In two cases we had to chase a young male child down a road or into farm land so they could get the vaccine.  One time, the crying child completely out ran me and the other school children gleefully caught up to him and dragged him back holding him by each limb like we were going to draw and quarter him in Medieval England.  I felt kind of bad so I had them put him down and I walked him back holding his arm.  He was still in tears.  At some time that day I caught something from one of the kids, but I can’t complain since the vaccinations truly are worth the effort.

Nigeria is still classified as a country with polio and cases still inch into Cameroon.  In fact a few members of my support group and a few other Cameroonian's I know had polio as children.  It is an important reminder of why vaccines are so important and the impressive efforts of local volunteers who go out once a month to combat the spread of preventable diseases.  Even if the kids don’t agree.