We live in a desperately impoverished country, where Mothers are so poorly nourished that their babies show signs of malnutrition from birth. The dire consequence of this is that minor infections can be serious and even life threatening to Haitian infants.
For the past month, Port-au-Prince has been struck by an epidemic of viral gastroenteritis. Healthy adults have felt ghastly for a day or two, but have then quickly recovered. For babies and young children, though, symptoms have been more severe and have lasted for weeks rather than days.
In the past week, 15 of the babies in the nursery have been unwell with high fevers, watery diarrhoea and vomiting. These children have required round the clock care and supervision to ensure that they did not become dangerously dehydrated. This has been hard work.
Some babies needed IV's. Some had to be drip-fed Oral Rehydration Solution continuously because this was the only way that that they could absorb it. We found that giving even an ounce at a time resulted in many babies losing more fluid than we gave them through diarrhoea and vomiting.
Keeping these babies hydrated was important, since dehydration is usually the cause of death in children who succumb to severe diarrhoea. One year old Ken was one of the children who had to be drip fed oral rehydration solution after becoming very dehydrated. The next day, he was yelling his head off for a bowl of cereal and getting into all kinds of things!
Even as I thanked God for Ken's rapid recovery, I was filled with dread at the thought of how many babies die of dehydration,in Haiti, just hours before they would have gotten over the virus that made them sick.
Since many of our babies are malnourished, it is critically important to pay particular attention to their nutrition while they are unwell and in the first few weeks after they get better. One thing we give, when we have it, is high doses of Zinc. Zink has been proven to make the diarrhoea less severity, to make it pass quicker and to prevent children in the developing world from catching other stomach viruses in the months after they have recovered.
Research also suggests that the sooner babies children start taking their normal diet again when they have diarrhoea, the faster they get better. Since many of our children have a history of malnutrition and their digestive systems are especially weak, we sometimes have to drip feed this nutrition for a few days, the same way we drip fed the oral rehydration solution. It is hard work, but it is very important to support their bodies, so that they can heal.
It is rewarding to see the difference that this intensive care has made to our 'angels'. We are thankful that they are all getting better and we pray that they will continue to grow stronger over the next few days and weeks.