Glasgow aid worker told why one young boy's life was 'not worth it'

Dr Gavin McColl working in a clinic in Zambia.
Dr Gavin McColl working in a clinic in Zambia.
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A Scottish doctor has described the harrowing moment a poverty-stricken mother and father in Zambia told him they had to make the ‘life or death decision not to fight for their young son’s life because if they did their other children would suffer and failing to grow their crops would affect their whole village.

Dr Gavin McColl, who was working for Glasgow-based charity On Call Africa, said the malnourished young boy, who had been suffering from dysentery, had been transferred to hospital in Livingstone for a re-feeding and antibiotics, but his family discharged him early.

Dr Gavin McColl driving to a remote rural area in Zambia.

Dr Gavin McColl driving to a remote rural area in Zambia.

“I got the parents back to clinic and said, ‘You need to get him back to hospital and do it properly this time’. His mum was crying saying it just wasn’t possible,’ Dr McColl said.

“I was angry at her and frustrated at first, ‘Why are you not doing this?’, but then when you dig into it, you realise that it’s not her fault.

“I had a case conference, where I was sitting down in the field with the extended family, a community elder, a pastor and the senior nurse for the area, digging in to why.

"You realise they are all at this borderline nutritional level"

“The little boy had been deemed to be lame and they felt it wasn’t worth their time any more and they saying whatever will be, will be.

“You realise they are all at this borderline nutritional level. If they start ploughing too much energy into this one child, then all of the other children will suffer and could die. If the mum and dad can’t tend to the farm, can’t improve the harvest that year, there is a significant knock-on impact to that village community.

“After extensive discussions and support from the local community the child returned to hospital to complete his treatment and he’s doing really well now.”

Small Charities Challenge Fund Grants available until 28 November deadline

Glasgow-born Dr McColl, who helped found the charity ten years ago with doctor friends Kirsty Luescher and Simon Tolmie and international development specialist Malcolm Spence, also revealed the charity used a £50,000 aid grant from the UK government’s Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF)to help carry out its work saving lives.

He wants more Scottish charities to take advantage of SCCF from the Department for International Development (DFID) before the November 28 deadline for applications.

On Call Africa charity helped nearly 8,000 Zambians last year by sending doctors from the UK into hard-to-reach rural villages to run treatment clinics, run health education classes and train local community health volunteers.

Baroness Sugg, of the DFID, said: “The UK Government’s Small Charities Challenge Fund exists to make sure small organisations, which do vital work around the world, get the crucial support they need to help us end poverty once and for all.

“UK aid has helped On Call Africa to scale up their work providing healthcare in rural areas in Zambia.

“The fund re-launched this month and we are encouraging small charities to apply for an SCCF grant to help make a difference.”