Friday, April 8, 2011

Battling asthma in Nueva Vida

Breathing in and out easily is not over-rated! As an asthmatic, I can attest to such. And…

Many of the poor have trouble getting a good breath. Asthma plagues the poor. Women suffer from chronic asthma because they have stood over poorly ventilated wood stoves for most of their lives cooking meals for their families. Older women who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives have emphysema.

Children really suffer. In the dry season (six months of no rain) wind blows dust and dirt into their tiny little homes. As cars and horse carts drive by – or even children playing ball in the street – dust billows. Like women, smoke from the wood stoves in their houses puts impurities into their tiny lungs, but not only from the stoves… smoke from burning trash (like used toilet paper and leaves) also makes it hard to breathe. Now add smoke from burning trash in the Ciudad Sandino dump – located right behind Nueva Vida – and you have tiny lungs in crisis.

Our pediatrician does a great job caring for the children. Last year 76% of his patients were under the age of five and 20% were treated for asthma! With our renewed commitment to community health, word is spreading that the Nueva Vida clinic is filling a need with asthmatic children by giving comprehensive care.

In the clinic we have nebulizers going almost non-stop. Children are given expensive cortisone inhalers for long-term treatment when they need them (this is a rarity in clinics that serve the poor). Toilet paper rolls serve as spacers. Disposable plastic cups with an “X” cut in the bottom to push the inhaler through serves as masks for little ones to breathe in the medication.

Our general practitioner also treats adults with asthma. All patients are given follow-up visits to see how they are doing.

Now we are reaching out into the community. We have put nebulizers in the community in homes of health promoters who are willing to open their homes for asthmatic people to access the machines at night and on week-ends when the clinic is closed. We are working on ways to convince people to burn trash away from homes and ventilate their wood stoves better, but much of this takes funding as well as education.

Most of us take breathing for granted…oxygen is the element we need most consistently…like every few minutes! Helping children, women, and men breathe is helping to guarantee a basic human right, don’t you think? – Kathleen