Mission Doctors Association

What is the Problem?

A doctor is called into a mission hospital late one night to see a sick infant.  As the nursing staff works to start IV fluids and give oxygen to the infant, the doctor asks the mother,  “What is the problem?”.   The mother responds, “The problem is that my daughter is one of the 40% of people in the world who are affected by water scarcity and one of the 30% of the people on the planet who lack access to safely-managed drinking water services.  I am worried that tonight she will become one of the nearly one thousand children who die each day from preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal disease.  If she survives this illness, I know that she will be sick like this many more times in her childhood even though I carry water from several kilometers away each day for our family.”

This is not, of course, the answer the mother gives the doctor.  Instead, she says, “My child has had vomiting and diarrhea for two days, as have many children in our village recently.  She will not drink any water now and is becoming very weak.” 

Today is the United Nations World Water Day1 with it’s 2019 goal of “Leaving no one behind” looking at the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring access to water and sanitation for all2.  As with so many aspects of life in resource-limited countries, the overall availability of a sufficient supply of fresh water for every person on Earth does not translate into the availability of clean water for each person on Earth.  Despite the daily work of water collection in households without local access to clean water, millions of people die each year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene1.

Sometimes the question “What is the problem?” is much different when asked of the mother of a sick child in a mission hospital than when asked of yourself as you see her carrying water the next day.

1.  United Nations

World Water Day, 22 March


2. United Nations

Sustainable Development Goal #6


Dr. Tim Cavanagh

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