Saturday, November 3, 2012

Counting Blessings and Saving Lives in Fort Portal, Uganda                        Sunday, October 28, 2012
Today we visited and attended church services in Fort Portal.  As soon we arrived, a tall man walked in to welcome us with a warm smile and hugs.  He introduced himself as the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda of the Archdeacon-Rubona Church.  He had been in charge of the church for only five months but was in the Mukole Archdeaconury before.  We also met Rev. Joshua Kidegeko, the Diocesan Health and Community Coordinator of Keeping Children and Mothers Alive.  Katusabe M. John Baptist, our host, and our UNICEF focal person, Kabarole, of the district local government told us to follow them inside the church where many of the families were already sitting on wooden benches.The beautiful music was loud and inviting.  
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services were in the native language and no matter that I did not understand what the speakers were saying, reading or telling us, I understood the language of love.  I could see how much the venerable reverend cares for his congregation.  While his words were encouraging and his smile sincere, I felt at home – and suddenly it was not a matter of distances, language barriers or different religions.  We were there together worshiping God.  I don’t know if I can explain this well, but I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and reverence.  I know that Cynthia Levin, my fellow champion, felt it too.  Without any words we looked at each other and with tears in our eyes we embraced in silence.  The reverence of the people, especially the little children, was incredible.  The church was at full capacity but you didn’t hear many noises from the children.  They were attentive and sometimes looked at us with a smile and curiosity.  It was a lovably scene that could make your heart melt!  My soul was so full of love and gratitude for what these wonderful people were teaching us, that I could only cry with joy and happiness! 
At the church services the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda invited his congregations to attend the Family Health Day; and Katusabe M. John Baptist, from UNICEF, gave a clear description of all the services that they would receive. 
Outside the day was beautiful and warm, and the mountains and hills looked so alive.  The greenery and shrubbery were vibrant, making a beautiful contrast with the colorful outfits of the mothers, fathers and children.  In front and to the side of the church a doctor, couple nurses and health workers were busy setting up the stations for services that would be provided throughout the day.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services would include: Pre-natal exams for pregnant women, testing for HIV/AIDS, blood pressure and diabetes for adults.  The children would receive birth registration, vitamin A to boost immunity and prevent blindness; de-worming tablets to treat parasitic infections and iron deficiency anemia; routine measles and polio vaccines, growth measurements and monitoring to track nutritional status.  I was not surprise to see how well they work with the leaders of the community and the   resources available to them.  I could remember using the same approach in México - if the mountain will not come to you, then you go to the mountain and form partnerships with the churches and town leaders.  UNICEF-sponsored “Family Health Days” four times a year is a clever way to reach the most underserved areas to deliver a free comprehensive health package targeting every child in a community; all in “one-stop” convenience.  “Convenience”, of course, is a very subjective word used relative to the local area where we were today.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 I was truly in my element!  Memories of my Nursing experiences in Mexico flashed back as I looked around me.  Here I was, now, on a different continent and the same images played out all around of people as they lined up patiently and went from line to line receiving the services provided.  Meanwhile, the children played and the town leaders came out to welcome us warmly.  I immediately noticed a big difference from my experiences in Mexico long ago, where as soon the children saw us walking into their villages they ran and hide from us, because they knew we were there to give them shots and vaccinations.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 Here, the children were smiling, staying close to their parents and ready to get a check-up.  I was amazed at how this team pulled together and what they accomplished that day.  It was not so difficult to see that the demand was bigger that the human resources available there.  Before the day’s activities started I went from station to station and spoke with the medical teams to learn more about them and to see their perspectives and challenges.  I was surprised to see the pregnant mother’s examination room with no blanket to cover the table, no pillows, and no blankets to cover the patients, nothing to help them raise their legs, no electric lamps and only the sunlight coming from the tiny window for illumination.  I watched the attendants using a funnel to listen to the babies’ heartbeats - I was shocked that these funnels were still in use!   I had not practiced rural nursing for many years, but that was how I used to examine mothers - and it was not very reliable then.  I remember we lost babies because you could not hear their hearts beating.  WOW!   I spoke with Dr. Richard Mugali, the District Health Officer, and learned from him that he had been practicing medicine for 7 years.  He said that he loves his job and the people he serves, but that he is frustrated with the challenges they face in offering basic medical care.  When I asked him about his biggest challenges, this was how he answered:
1.     Limited human resources for health care; we don’t have an adequate number of nurses and health workers.  The number of patients has increased and doubled with only 58.5% of needed staffing to serve them.
2.     Lack of modern basic equipment especially in maternal and child health.
a.     We have lost some babies because we are still using old and outdated stethoscopes.  We would like to have adopter fetal scopes at least at every Level III Health Center.
b.     We do not have ultrasound scans to diagnose incomplete (spontaneous) abortions, so most of the time we also lose the mothers.
3.     Limited Infrastructure; as the population increases, more people go to clinics that don’t have the resources needed to provide help in the community.
There you have it - a reality check of the basic medical services needed in Uganda and throughout Africa.  It sounds so familiar to me.  I know how difficult it can be to work in these circumstances.  I remember how powerless I felt as a young nurse in Mexico for not being able to help every patient with their needs, or to alleviate their suffering. 
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
However, today was different with a happy ending because of the help of many champions - and your donations to the UN Shot@Life campaign.  With the help of UNICEF many services were provided, many lives were saved and there was sufficient medicine for today’s objective.  Most of all, I saw a miracle of many making a difference, serving God by serving His children on a sunny Sunday at a small church on a little hill in Fort Portal, Uganda.

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