Saturday, August 20, 2011

Absentee Neighbor

This morning Tyree almost slipped on a puddle of water on the floor. Since I had just taken a shower, he thought I was the one who had created the puddle - and I really wish it had been me. But no, it was a leak in the ceiling. A leak which, by the time we returned from lunch, had turned into several leaks drizzling down the wall and from the light fixture (!) in the bathroom. We knew something was very wrong - we just didn´t know how to fix it.

First, I told our next door neighbor, who is in the process of moving out. She invited me in to view the water stains on her ceiling from dripping water. It was awful, and not encouraging at all. She told me it was part of the reason why she was leaving after living there 5 years. She didn´t know our upstairs neighbor or what we should do. She was also really busy moving out - she was taking everything with her, the fridge, the ac units, even the kitchen sink.

We knocked on the door of the apartment above ours, but no one answered and there was a padlock on the outside of the door, indicating there was probably no one home. We could actually hear the water flowing from the other side of the door. So we knocked on the door of the apartment next door to the one above ours. That neighbor agreed that it was an urgent situation - I pointed out that his own apartment was in danger of being damaged too - but he didn´t move that urgently. He didn´t know his neighbor´s number or where he was or even the last time he had seen him. There is no owner of our building, no landlord present to fix things or even a slumlord to demonize. Everyone is on their own. Which would be fine if apartments weren´t connected to other apartments on all sides. The whole thing reminded me of that movie Dark Water. Creepy.

Well, mister neighbor didn´t know what to do. Other than break into the empty apartment ourselves, we realized we needed to turn off the water some other way. We had a vague idea that the little old lady on the second floor had been there a long time and might even have the missing neighbor´s phone number. She happened to be wearing a dress with an African pattern of buckets and facets. She did not know the missing neighbor, but she did know how to turn the water off. Every floor has a utility closet and mister neighbor (who should have thought of this first) had the key. We opened up the closet and Tyree turned the water off while I pressed my ear to the door. I could hear the water stop.

But who knows how long the water was flowing. Water is still dripping, but we hope the leaks won´t spread anywhere else. Meanwhile, no one has the missing neighbor´s number, so whenever he does come back, it will be to a wet surprise.

Which shows you it is good to know your neighbors. We know ours, but unfortunately they are moving out. At least we know how to shut off the water if this ever happens again.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Empty Handed

The short film "Empty Handed," produced by Population Action International, addresses problems of access to contraception in Uganda. The film highlights the fact that women know about contraception, and want it, but due to weak distribution systems and poor government support, it is often unavailable at health posts when they make the effort to seek it out.

A few weeks ago, there was an article in the New York Times about maternal mortality in Uganda. The two issues go hand in hand. Contraception prevents not only unwanted pregnancy, but also pregnancy-related deaths.

While both stories focus on Uganda, the problems they describe exist all over the world. Especially poignant is a comment by a warehouse manager that somehow Coca-Cola is able to restock distant villages with its product in a matter of days, while the government health system delays distribution of medications for months. It´s not that it can´t be done, it´s that multiple pieces of the distribution system are broken.

The film and article both address the fact that donor money could be part of the problem. The warehouse manager informs us that 95% of the medications are paid for by donors and only 5% by the government. The NYT article reports that the Ugandan military recently purchased fighter jets. The more donor money received, the less responsibility the government takes for its own health care system. Donors may pay for medications, but are often not allowed to pay government workers´salaries or assume control over distribution systems. Donor agencies cannot and should not take the place of government run ministries of health. But if the government moves funds from the health budget to the military, assuming that outside help will cover the health care of its citizens, then maybe the donation is hurting more than it is helping.

In my experience, I have seen beautiful, new health clinics with no staff, I have seen boxes and boxes of medication with no transportation to the clinics, and I have met skilled health staff who do not have all the tools they need to use their skills to save lives. Women know how to prevent having more children than they want, but when they go to the clinics, they come away empty handed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs)

Insecticide treated nets (ITNs) are an effective tool against malaria. Mosquito nets are great, but they often get holes and sometimes trap mosquitoes inside with the sleeping humans. Nets treated with insecticide solve these problems by both keeping most mosquitoes out of bed and killing those that land on it.

Some problems with ITNs include losing their potency due to washing and being dried in the sun and exposing people and animals to toxins when being retreated with insecticide. That´s why IEC materials should always be distributed along with ITNs.

I really loved the ITN that Peace Corps gave me. It protected me not only from mosquitoes, but roaches and bats too.

Related Posts:

Vector Control: Posts on Malaria
Maruvu: Posts on Malaria