The child killer


Little Nomsa Sibisi got sick one night. She had a ‘running stomach’. And she was vomiting a lot. The sickness is called ‘Gastro – enteritis’.


Mrs Sibisi gave her child some black tea. But the child vomited again. And then the child made another shit. The shit was very soft.


Mrs Sibisi did not know what to do. She went to bed. She hoped the child would be better in the morning.


But Nomsa was still sick the next morning. Before Mrs Sibisi went to work, she called the old woman next door. She asked the old woman to look after Nomsa. She told the old woman to give Nomsa some black tea.


When Mrs Sibisi got home that evening, Nomsa was still sick. She looked very unhappy. She didn’t want to sleep, eat or play. She cried a lot.


Now Mrs Sibisi was worried. She decided to take Nomsa to the clinic. But it was late. And she had no transport. She decided to find a taxi early the next morning. She went to bed.


Mrs Sibisi woke up suddenly. Nomsa was crying. She picked up Nomsa. Nomsa was breathing fast. Nomsa felt cold. But she was also sweating. The child’s mouth was dry. And the soft spot on her head was sunken.


The child was vomiting. And her shit was like water. She cried once more. Then she was quiet. Nomsa was dead.


Gastro – enteritis is the biggest killer of young children in South Africa. Over 100 thousand black children die from this sickness every year.


Gastro – enteritis is a dangerous sickness. But this sickness is easy to cure. Learn and Teach spoke to a doctor. We asked him some questions:


Learn and Teach. Why is gastro – enteritis such a big killer of black children?

Doctor. Most of the people in South Africa are poor. They can’t afford to buy healthy food. So they don’t eat properly. And many people share one house. The houses don’t have proper toilets. And the houses don’t have enough water. All these things help to start gastro – enteritis.

Many people work far away from home. Mothers often leave their children with old women. Old women can’t run after children. So the children play in dirty places. The dirt can make a child get gastro – enteritis.

The old women can’t breastfeed the children. They feed the children with bottles. Children who feed from bottles get gastro – enteritis more easily. A mother must always try to breastfeed her child.


Learn and Teach: How can you help a child with gastro – enteritis?

Doctor. Children die from gastro – enteritis because they lose a lot of sugar, salt and water from their bodies. Their bodies lose sugar, salt and water because they shit and vomit so much. Children’s bodies need enough sugar, salt and water. Otherwise they will die.

But we can easily stop children dying from gastro – enteritis. We give them sugar and salt and water to drink. We call this ‘sugar and salt water’. A child with gastro – enteritis must drink sugar and salt water. Then the child’s body will have enough sugar and salt and water.


Learn and Teach: How do you make this sugar and salt water?

Doctor. You must first get a mug or bottle, a teaspoon, salt, sugar and clean water. Then you must follow these rules.

Wash your hands. Clean the mug or bottle very well. Boil the mug or bottle if you can. Put clean water in the mug or bottle. Boil the water first if you can. Put one quarter teaspoon of salt in the mug or bottle. Put 1 tablespoon of sugar in the mug or bottle. Stir the sugar and salt water. Now the sugar and salt water is ready.


Learn and Teach: How much sugar and salt water must you give the child?

Doctor. You must give the child a cup of sugar and salt water every two hours and after each shit.


Learn and Teach: What else must you do?

Doctor: You must also feed the child. A child with gastro – enteritis needs a lot of food. The food will help the child get better quickly.

You can give the child any food. Bananas, oranges and tomatoes are good for children with gastro – enteritis.

A mother must still breastfeed the child. All children need mothers’ milk until they are two years old. And you must not give the child any medicine or pills.


Learn and Teach: When must you take the child to a clinic?

Doctor: Go to a clinic if the child is still shitting after three days. Go to a clinic if the child does not drink the sugar and salt water. Go to a clinic if the child is very sleepy. Go to a clinic if the child starts breathing very fast. Go to a clinic if the child is vomiting a lot. Go to a clinic if the child does not pass water. Go to a clinic if there is blood in the shit. Go to a clinic if the soft spot on the child’s head sinks in. Go to a clinic if the child has a fit.


Learn and Teach: How can you keep gastro – enteritis away from your home?

Doctor. Breastfeed the baby if you can. Bottles are often dirty. A baby can get gastro­ enteritis from a dirty bottle.

Keep flies away from the child’s food. Flies carry gastro – enteritis on their legs. Wash your hands after you go to the toilet. And wash your hands before you cook food.

Always try to use clean water. If you get your water from a river, boil the water first. Make sure your pots, bottles, spoons and knives are clean.


Learn and Teach. How do we stop gastro – enteritis in our country?

Doctor: We can easily help a child with gastro – enteritis. We just give the child sugar and salt water. Then the child gets better.

But these children will get sick again. They will get sick because they are still poor. They still share a house with many other people. And they still live in houses without proper toilets and water.

So if we want to fight gastro – enteritis, we must fight for a better life. People must fight for better wages and for better houses. People must fight for these things together. They must fight together in trade unions and community organizations. This is the only way to stop gastro – enteritis .

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