A Canadian team plus PTPs plus Straw huts equals Health care in Niger

When a team of nine Canadian health care professionals set up mobile clinics in isolated villages in Niger, the practice of medicine took on a whole new dimension.

The team used straw huts as clinics. Despite the lack of electricity or running water, they treated some 190 people every day for a total of 947 in five days. Daytime temperatures reached 40C.

Some of the more prevalent conditions they treated were diarrhea, malaria, worms and malnutrition.

At one of their clinics, a two-year-old infant, brought by his grandmother, presented with rapid respiration and failure to thrive. Had the team not been there, his grandmother would have walked with him to the nearby health hut for an assessment and treatment.

A health hut is a community service with limited medications and a health agent with less than six months of training. People often travel up to 7 km by foot or donkey cart to reach the hut. Otherwise, 20 km away, there is a health center with a nurse practitioner and a bit more medication.

According to Dr. Ace Cheung, who met and treated the child, had he gone to a health hut he would likely have been treated for malaria instead of pneumonia since his most obvious symptom was a fever. He could easily have become another infant mortality statistic.

Instead, with the medication from the Physician Travel Packs carried by the team, Dr. Cheung was able to treat the pneumonia and the child’s failure to thrive. This little two-year-old became one more example of a treatment story with a happy ending.

Perhaps Dr. Cheung had the young boy in mind when he wrote a message for the pharmaceutical companies that donate medicine for the PTPs: “Thank you for the unselfish help you have provided in saving lives and relieving suffering for these poorest of the poor in Niger.”