Almost eaten alive by children

I made it out to the field yesterday with the two study coordinators and a field team. We traveled to two schools about 45 minutes from Kisumu, both in remote areas with dirt and rocks for a road leading up to them. The children at one school get porridge on treatment day, and are generally excited for the treat. So when we drove up, they had bellies full of porridge and were hanging off every edifice I could see, as well as crowding around the ground watching us pull in.

There were over 100 kids at the first school, and they looked happy, playing in large groups in a clearing in front of the buildings. We were told to watch for kids lying on the grass; these would be the ones who had any reaction to the drug. Although severe reactions are rare, the teachers need to record any nausea or illness that occurs afterward.
Sure enough, two boys sat on the ground among the thin dusty legs, looking noticeably less happy than the others. But as soon as I tried to take a picture, they perked up. That’s when I learned that white girls should NOT expect to get good photos of Kenyan children. Instead, they’ll get photos of smiling faces quickly converging on the camera. To get any other shots I had to hide in a building and shoot through the windows…

The other school was a bit more orderly; the kids sat down for a group picture and went to their respective classrooms to get their Praziquantel. The drug is given based on height, not weight, so each child stood next to a dose pole to receive the proper dosage.

We met with the teachers of each school, and they spoke about the rewards and challenges of getting stool samples and administering the drugs to the children. The teachers are trained to do this, but they also have to deal with parents, frightened children and other technical activities.

Overall, they said that the children and parents were now accustomed to the treatments. Initially, the kids were somewhat afraid of taking medicine but once they learned they would receive a treat they were happy to take the pills. Parents were given consent forms and told the purpose of the drugs and were alright with them, with the qualifier that no blood-taking occur. Luckily, the study requires stool samples instead.

As for their role in the treatments, one teacher summed it up nicely: “When the children are healthy, they learn better.”

(If you’re wondering where the pictures of these kids are, I’m waiting for permission to publish them, but they’ll be up next week.)

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