Page last updated at 10:19 GMT, Friday, 14 March 2008

Diary: Sierra Leone slum medic

Adama Gondor
Adama Gondor, who runs a clinic in a coastal slum of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, is keeping a diary for the BBC News website about her work.

Here she discusses the problems of herbal remedies in Kroo Bay, where nearby shanty houses have been built on a rubbish dump on the banks of the Crocodile River.

A severely malnourished child was brought to the clinic on Monday.

A baby being weighed in Kroo Bay clinic
Eight-month-old babies should weigh about 9kg

The baby was eight months old, but she only weighed 4.5kg.

If we assume she had the average weight of 3.3kg when she was born she should have been getting close to 9kg by now.

The baby was very thin, with bad skin and looked more like an old man - it's awful to see a baby in such a condition.

She also looked very hungry. We immediately referred the baby to the hospital quite far away in the east of Freetown where there is a therapeutic feeding centre.

The mother took her straight there and she was admitted - the programme is free.


Recent research by a university student in the community found that 95% of the population here cannot afford to buy proper nutritious food.

People often prefer to go to traditional healers because they come from the countryside
Adama Gondor

Their diet is not balanced and many children are malnourished but to see such a child is unusual.

The mother told us she had been feeding the baby rice porridge, which is just carbohydrates and does not give enough nutrition.

She also said the child had been sick and she had been giving her native herbs.

I suspect that the herbal medicine may have had a part to play in this as an eight-month-old baby does not have a very developed liver and the various herbs could have been poisoning her and making her condition worse.

Kroo Bay clinic
Sometimes the clinic has to turn people away as there are no drugs

The mother waited to come to the clinic till the situation was really severe.

In Kroo Bay in addition to this clinic there are both traditional healers, who use herbs, leaves and local medicine, and medical quacks, who pretend to be doctors and nurses and use modern medicine.

People often prefer to go to traditional healers because they come from the countryside and feel more comfortable approaching them.

Also it is cheaper and sometimes we have to send people away when we have no drugs in the clinic.

I am not so worried about the external medicines they give people to put on their skins - like the chicken pox paste I described last week - but some of the ones they tell people to swallow can be poisonous, especially for a small baby.

Save the Children has launched an interactive website where Kroo Bay residents answer questions about their lives. Visitors will be able to access 360-degree images of the site, and catch up with the latest news from the slum through regular "webisodes".

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