Small blessings can happen in the most unlikely places. In early February a baby girl was found in the early hours of the morning, on a pile of garbage in a side street next to Saint Michael’s Church, in Gambella town.
The child was naked and suffering from severe hypothermia as well as a very low blood sugar level. She was rushed to the Gambella general hospital where MSF’s paediatrics team took charge of her care.
“We think that her mother might have given birth to the baby in the street and we can only assume that there was some sort of family or social problem. If we hadn’t been there to care for her, she would not have survived. She was in a very bad condition but the neonatal intensive care unit was able to stabilise her condition,” said Dr César Pérez Herrero, MSF´s project medical referent in the hospital.
"By this time Abang had made a very important decision and decided that she would like to adopt the child. She immediately filed a request with the authorities and permission was granted."
“The child’s arrival was very exciting for the staff, as we were all touched by her plight. We did our best to ensure that she was well cared for, especially as she did not have a parent or a guardian. One of our colleagues, Abang Ochudo Gilo, a translator in the maternity ward and neonatal department, was especially taken with her plight. She would constantly ask about her.”
The hospital’s medical director brought the case to the attention of the Child and Women’s Affairs department in Gambella, as is the standard procedure. By this time Abang had made a very important decision and decided that she would like to adopt the child. She immediately filed a request with the authorities and permission was granted.
“I fell in love with the baby and wanted to protect her. I felt a huge happiness when I saw her, and that is why from that first moment, I decided to call her Joy or Metech in Anuak language.”
“I have no other children and live with my mother and three sisters. At first, I had doubts over how I would look after the baby when I was at work. My mother told me that I shouldn’t worry as she would be very happy to take care of the baby. My youngest sister also volunteered to help in the afternoons after her classes.”
The usual procedure is for the Child and Women Affairs department to track down an abandoned child’s family. If they are unsuccessful, or if a reunion is impossible, there are two local organisations that can assume responsibility for the child’s well being, but this is never ideal. There are also church groups that can take charge if needed. Adoption is possible but not very common.“
Joy is always smiling at everybody. We are all so happy with the new arrival that has changed our family life.”
The neonatal intensive care unit in Gambella hospital compromises national and expat staff, including one flying paediatrician, one nurse activity manager, a doctor, a national nurse supervisor and six nurses. A regional health bureau doctor and six nurses are also assigned to the team and work alongside their MSF colleagues. The team treats a lot of premature babies, neonatal infection, meningitis and malformations through pregnancy.
Since MSF started working in the maternity department the number of patients has increased substantially and it has become one of the busiest departments at Gambella Hospital. In March 2018, more than 270 mothers gave birth and over 40 babies were admitted to the neonatal unit. Joy was one of babies who spent their first days under the good care of our staff.
While the hospital treats patients from the South Sudanese refugee community and the local Ethiopian community, their health problems can be quite different. The refugees arriving from war-torn South Sudan have travelled a long way to get there. They are often malnourished and suffering from severe diarrhoea. Others come with severe respiratory problems.