God Really Shouldn't Have Told This Lady With No Medical Degree To Go Run A Clinic In Uganda
If there is one major benefit to being an atheist, other than not having to go to Mass, it is that God never tells you to do shit. If God needs an ark built? Needs someone murdered? Wants to play a weird practical joke where he only pretends he wants someone murdered? He is not bothering me about it! That is someone else's problem.
From what I have gleaned from a variety of news sources over the years, God is almost never telling anyone to do anything that isn't an objectively bad idea.
This weekend, NPR ran a report on Renee Bach, a US missionary with a serious white savior complex, who is currently being sued in Ugandan civil court. Bach went to Jinja, Uganda, at age 19 after God "called" her to go set up a charity over there. Wanting to address a problem that was not currently being addressed by other non-profits in the region, Bach decided to set up a malnutrition clinic called "Serving His Children," where she says that she took in 940 children from 2010 to 2015.
105 of them died.
Now, you may be thinking "Well, if they were severely malnourished children, maybe those aren't terrible statistics? What would the usual statistics be for that kind of thing, anyway?" But the issue here isn't so much that Bach failed to save these children, but that she, a person who did not have medical training of any kind, was doing things that only someone with medical training should be doing and not sending these children to hospitals when they very clearly needed to go to a hospital. While Bach claimed that children with malnutrition issues were turned away from hospitals, Jinja's regional referral hospital actually did have a whole malnutrition unit that could have helped a lot of those children with particularly complicated malnutrition problems.
In her blog, Bach routinely bragged about doing a lot of stuff that someone with no medical background and only a high school degree should definitely not be doing, in one instance to a nine month-old infant named Patricia.
"I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work," she wrote. "Took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB count." (That's a measure of hemoglobin in the blood.)
"I was attempting to diagnose the many problems that could potentially be at hand. Got it: Malaria: positive. H.B. 3.2. ... a big problem ... most likely fatal. ... She needed a blood transfusion. And fast."
Next, Bach wrote, "we" — it's not specified who is meant by "we" — started a blood transfusion for Patricia.
Following this incident, Bach finally called up an actual nurse that had been working with her — a volunteer named Jackie Kramlich, who eventually reported Bach to the police — and asked her to come help, as Dr. Google was failing her.
"So I walk in," Kramlich recalls, "and there's this child, swollen, wheezing." Kramlich could see the blood still being transfused into Patricia's vein. "And [Bach] goes, 'You know, I think she might be having a reaction. But I don't know. Because, you know, Google says that if they're having a reaction, they'll have a rash. And I don't see a rash."
Kramlich says that as was often the case, it was clear to her that Bach was the one making the medical decisions. And in this instance, she says, none of the staff nurses were even at the center.
Saul Guerrero, a specialist in childhood malnutrition at UNICEF, says that the death rates at Bach's clinic were extremely high, even for Uganda. He also pointed out that a lot of the services Bach was providing without medical training or a license were pretty dangerous:
Guerrero says malnourished children with extra complications are so fragile that unless a health provider knows exactly what he or she is doing, it's actually safer to do nothing.
"Their metabolism is not working. Their immune system is not working. So once you initiate any kind of treatment that will very often have knock-on effects," he says.
Just hydrating them by putting them on an IV can trigger a heart attack — if the sodium and potassium content isn't continually adjusted to match the child's fluctuating levels.
And if health workers are not treating the child in a facility that is fully equipped to immediately address such emergencies, says Guerrero, "the chances that that child will die are very, very high."
What kind of a person, who is not a doctor, says to themselves, "OK, sure! I'll just put an IV in this child! It will be fine! I will save them!" Not me, and I used to pierce ears at Claire's, which I believe may technically make me more qualified than Renee Bach.
Ever since the lawsuit was filed, Bach has gone around on Fox News and such, claiming that she didn't do anything wrong, that people are libeling her for no reason, etc., etc. She even told NPR that she just lied in her blogs about doing all that stuff so that her friends and family would be impressed with her. But as several people interviewed in the article point out, if she had tried to do this in the United States, she would be in jail right now — not simply dealing with a civil lawsuit.
Clearly, the best thing anyone can say about "Serving His Children" is that at least it's not a recipe book.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse