Jos is 33 and looks like 65. 60 pounds. She has been hospitalized here since February 8th. Her daughter is only 8 and sleeps next to her mom who wastes away slowly. What will she do when she finally disappears? For now she sings, and dances and laughs all around the compound. And poses for pictures as she sings the Burundian national anthem.
The Burundians have lived through so much. It is really hard to imagine. And I am outside of it, so far from it. Thankfully. But physically being here, there are a lot of refugees making their way back to Burundi from Tanzania. At this clinic, on top of this hill, every day about 80 people line up to be seen. There are 12 in patients. One is Joselyn. She has inguinal lymph nodes the size of golf balls. She has lost 20 pounds since she got here and we are trying to figure out what she has. It’s either Tuberculosis or cancer. We hope its tuberculosis because then there is hope there. That we can treat. Cancer, she will die. If its cancer, I am encouraged by the fact that she would die even in the United States with this degree of cancer. That is not true for so many of them. Dumb diseases. Easily treatable diseases. Its like trying to open a door and all you have a paperclip. But the paper clip has fallen on the floor in a large room that is pitch dark. And even if you find the paper clip you won’t necessarily be able to open the door. Even if you figure out the disease, doesn’t mean you will be able to treat it. But you know there are keys that can open the door. There are a million of them, but they cost money that you don’t have. So you just piecemeal with what you have. And doctors and nurses all around the world have been doing it for decades. Every time I think what I would do in the states and then again, what I would do here in Burundi. I always ask the Burundian doctor alongside me if we have such and such medicine. And he always smiles and says “no, we are poor”.
By Dr Sriram Shamasunder
Photo courtesy Matthew Lester Photography