In Buco Zau, which means ‘elephant’s earth’ in the local language Fiote, there are two kids who have a lot in common. Their names are Manuel and Joaquin and we were fortunate to meet them. These boys are neighbors who play together and go to the same school. Manuel lives with his parents and Joaquin lives with his aunt. They also share the same diagnosis: sickle cell disease.
The day we met Manuel and Joaquin, they were the first patients waiting for us when we arrived at the clinic. They came to our sickle cell disease clinic in Cabinda, Angola, very early. Manuel’s mother told us the area in which they live in Buco Zau is also known as ‘la mata’ or ‘the woods.’ Another local name for this forest is Miombe, a vast rainforest which is the second largest in the world.
Coming to the clinic is a labor of time, planning and money requiring travel via multiple taxis for more than two hours for the two boys and Manuel’s mother. Despite this exhausting journey, the boys arrived enthusiastic and motivated. Manuel’s mother was especially excited, as she had heard news about the arrival in Cabinda of a drug to treat sickle cell disease.
That day, for the first time, we were going to prescribe hydroxyurea to the children we care for in Angola. Our program had just received a shipment of hydroxyurea donated by Bristol-Myers Squibb through Americares for use in Cabinda Province. I was thrilled to be able to provide this life-saving treatment to children affected by sickle cell in this remote area. With this drug, children like Manuel and Joaquim can have a chance at a better quality of life
As we took the medical history of the boys, discussed life in Buco Zau and the struggles Manuel and Joaquin had while growing up, it was lovely to observe their friendship; they played and protected each other. The theme of helping one another was not a new one for me as I have been witness to the uplifting support that is prevalent here in Cabinda since my arrival. I admire my Cabindan colleagues, neighbors, friends and patients in how quick they are to help each other with a sense of solidarity that is ever present here in our province.
As I joked with Joaquin and Manuel about school and their home, I told them I want to visit them to see ‘la mata’ and especially an elephant! They giggled and laughed with me, and at the end of our visit they promised me they would be back with an elephant in their pocket to show me at their next appointment.
As we develop and expand our program, we hope more medical personnel will come to see ‘la mata’ and, most importantly, to collaborate in helping improve the health of the Elephant’s earth people.