Just after nightfall a man and a woman approached my campsite. The woman was carrying a small girl. The child’s head was slumped forward and her breathing was shallow – her tiny but swollen stomach contracting in spasms. Clearly the child was very ill. The woman explained that her daughter had been vomiting and had watery diarrhea. She had a fever and was severely dehydrated.
I told them I was not a doctor but suggested they get the girl to a hospital quickly. I was ready to drive them to the nearest hospital – about one hours drive away – they agreed – however the child was so ill I wondered whether she would survive the journey. I had some zinc tablets, oral re-hydration salts and clean water which I knew would help if the child could keep them down – however the girl was simply too weak to take them orally. She needed a drip – which I did not have.
By the time we reached the hospital the little girl had died. Her mother and father were inconsolable. The father cursed the lack of clean water in their community. If only they had clean water their daughter would be alive. 5000 children die in Africa each day from diarrheal diseases – one every 20 seconds – caused primarily by drinking contaminated water or not being able to wash their hands because there is not enough water.
These children die silently in remote areas – unnoticed, unknown and mourned only by their families. They deserve better. A source of clean water would in all likelihood have prevented this little girl’s death. A zinc tablet and oral rehydration salts taken with clean water – costing just 30 cents – and taken in the early stages of the disease would have treated it. The provision of clean water will save more lives than any other intervention.
If you want to learn more contact the Africa Water Bank.