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British, Kenyan soldiers take mercy mission to the poor

BUSIA
By | June 8th 2009

By Lucianne Limo

Army trucks and green, jungle tents in a remote part of Baringo North district, sit like huge rocks against the bare surroundings.

But as one gets near, it is evident the tents and their surroundings are as busy as a termite mound.

British servicemen and women and Kenya Army soldiers in their uniforms criss-cross the compound in the bush where long queues of mainly women and children had formed since dawn.

On the tents is a hive of activity, with medical personnel working hard to attend to sick local residents.

In one of the tent, Major Gareth Hatthersley, from a British medical regiment, is removing the decayed tooth of a boy.

"It is too late to fill his tooth. I have no option but to remove it," he says as the young boy cringes in pain.

Underprivileged

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Hatthersley is from a British medical regiment team which has set up a temporary base in Kabartonjo to offer free medical care. They are given logistical support by Kenyan Army personnel.

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire, who toured the camp, praised the joint venture by the British and Kenyan soldiers, terming it a worthy act to help the underprivileged.

Mr Macaire said the exercise is also an opportunity for British medical servicemen to put into practice their capabilities.

Major James Edward ,who is in charge of the British medical regiment, said the exercise accords them the opportunity to work in a challenging environment to help improve lives.

Part of the support is provided by the British government’s Department for International Development (DfID).

The six-week medical exercise, codenamed Operation Sharp Point, will be conducted in more than 35 locations in six districts.

The clinics will be in remote areas in Baringo, Baringo North, East Pokot and Samburu.

Hatthersley says most of the children and adults have tooth decay because of drinking contaminated water from wells.

old age

At Sandae Primary School and Bartumwa village in Baringo North constituency where the camp is, children in a long queue, with running stomachs and ringworm-infested scalps, braved scorching heat and patiently waited for their turn to be treated.

On another equally long queue for adults, Ms Sote Chepkonga 70, bent with old age and walking with the aid of a stick, eagerly waited to tell the doctors what had been ailing her back for more than a decade.

Sandae Chief Michael Chepkuto said local people have been flocking the camp. They do not have a health centre that serves the local community.

"The only hospital is 10 km from here, while the district hospital is over 50 km away. Although we have a health centre with medicine, there are no doctors or nurses", he adds.

The doctors say low rates of immunisation and high levels of malaria, diarrhoea, HIV-Aids, malnutrition, trachoma, joint pains because of walking long distances in search of water and ringworms are some of the key medical issues affecting the communities.

With five malnourished children in tow, Ms Mary Cherono says the camp was her only chance to get her children treated.

"I am poor and I cannot afford to take my children to hospital, which is very far from my village. When the chief told us of this exercise, I told my children not to attend school and we came here," she said.

Her children, aged between nine and 12, were suffering from dysentry, ringworms and malnutrition.

chronic conditions

Most children suffer malnurtion, amoeba, malaria, diarrhoea and tooth decay, the medical team said.

The common ailments detected among adults include tuberculosis, fatigue and cataract of the eye.

"It is very sad to see people suffering from diseases that can be easily treated and yet they cannot access medical care," said Lieutenant Colonel Kerry Mathewson.

"We have been overwhelmed by the number of patients who are seeking help but we are only able to treat some of the ailments. Some have severe complications that we are incapable of treating here. We refer them to Kabarnet District hospital," Mathewson said.

He regretted that some of the patients had not sought medical help and hence their ailments had become chronic.

"We have come across people who have not had any medical attention at all," Mathewson said.

Apart from getting free medicine, poor villagers are also given clothes.

At the gifts tent, an old woman, Ms Gogo Chepkonga, caused laughter when one of the British medics gave her a pair of trousers as a gift.

She violently shook her head and threw her hands up in fury, to the amazement of the medics. It is against tradition for women, especially of her age, to wear trousers. She, however calmed down when she was given a T-shirt.

purifiers

Apart from free medical and dental care, the team will also vaccinate of children.

At Sandae and Bartumwa, children were vaccinated against polio, measles and mumps.

The local community will also benefit from 6,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets and more than 3,000 condoms and water purifiers

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