DRC Diary V: Despite the wildlife, the vaccination begins

© Jessica Nestrell/MSF Click for large view Speed is often required if the campaign is to be successful. The team pulls up on a river bank and lashes together the two priogues. Parents and children in one, staff and medicines in the other. Once done, they move on to the next village. On November 10 we finally kicked off this measles vaccination effort in Waka and in Basankusu. Although it would have been earlier if our cargo hadn't got stuck. Again. The first day of vaccination was chaotic. It was a real effort to organise the people in a nice way. If you are too brusque, the mothers get annoyed and take their children home without receiving the shot. Most children are afraid of getting vaccinated so we have to line them up and get them stamping and clapping while they wait. But in general the population are very happy about the campaign and there is only a bit of resistance. The second day was better as we started vaccinating in the big schools, which are much easier as the children are grouped together. Some of the teams managed to vaccinate 900 children. The third day I went on the river to try and hunt down our three river teams who were running late. As there are hundreds of little tiny tributaries that sometimes go deep into the woods, the vaccination is very time consuming. The teams spend hours of paddling only to find a few children here and there. It also turned out that they had a bad system for doing things, laboriously unpacking and installing the vaccination site on dry land every time they found a couple of children. This explained why they were behind schedule. I was not happy at all about that so I helped them organise a vaccination site in the pirogue. Like that we could get the parents to moor their pirogue next to ours, then we could lift the children into our rigged up boat and vaccinate quickly. This was much more efficient. Day four: too sick to vaccinate On the fourth day of vaccination I also found myself being violently sick, with fever and body pains. It continued for days before I became so sick that I thought it must be something serious, so I dragged myself to the lab and they did a microscopy - a little drop of blood on a lab slide. After it is prepared you look for the ugly little parasites that indicate malaria. The dangerous kind look like headphones. Here, in this part of Africa, it is almost always the headphone kind, but I was fortunate. Even so, I was completely exhausted, dehydrated and unable to leave the house. This meant that I had to try to co-ordinate from there with people from the vaccination team passing by when needs arose. On the bright side, I have learned how to make bread in a frying pan. There is really not that much to eat in the bush and after a few days the food that I bring from Basankusu starts to go bad. But now I will start bringing flour to bake a thin white bread that can be accompanied by fruit, usually bananas. Right now I love it and I make it all the time. But everything is relative but my friends will likely puke if I try to make it for them back in Sweden. Anyway, I have some other emergency food now since one of my friends sent pasta and chocolate to me the other day. On to Bokeka For the next zone, Bokeka, we were delayed another day because we couldn't get the material from the field to the river in time. At one point, fallen trees and heavy rain meant the car was so stuck that we gave up, unloaded it and continued the transport by motorbike. After a few days I headed back to Basankusu to pick up the money for the salaries of the vaccination teams then returned by car. I did a fair amount of travelling on bad roads before, when I was working in Angola, but this is really like nothing I have ever seen. After a few kilometres I was quite happy that the drivers had decided that I should sit in the middle because we were continually brushing against the vegetation and being thrown around in the car. We constantly had branches, leaves and a huge amount of insects coming in to the car. It took us the whole day to reach our destination. I didn't have time to do any supervision at all, but the next day I woke up at five to start. That's when I was told that we had run out of vaccines and could not finish vaccinating the children. Since we had no motorcycles, the only option was to try to make it by car to the preparation site where the vaccines are stocked. Then, when we got back again, we found that there were no syringes left either! By the time everything had been sorted out it was dark so we had to continue vaccinating in the last villages using the car headlights. Then finally we had to go to the river to wait for the river teams to come back. It took us ages to get all the material back to the stockage site. Since the stock keeper had not been doing the right calculations in his statistics, I had to sit with him and finish that while the others started to pack the car. An addition to the stock When I came out I noticed that they had been loading things in a very strange way. We had so much luggage that every inch was important, so we had to take everything out again and pack it from the beginning. It was then that I discovered a live crocodile and several chickens that the staff had put in. This happens all the time. On one occasion I even found a huge turtle and half of an antelope. Since we were still waiting for some teams to come back, we could not finish the packing, so I started the payment of the teams. This is a real pain in the neck and it has to be done very carefully since people this far out in the bush are not used to money. We had problems like two people claiming to own the same pirogue or the same bicycle, both wanting to be paid the full amount. I am starting to lose count of the times I have been screamed at in Lingala, the local language. In the end we were not finished until midnight. I tried all day to arrange some water for a shower since I hadn't taken one in two days. It proved impossible, so in the end I just went to bed.