Allison Godwin Neumeister travels to Uganda twice annually to distribute aid and partner with organizations that support the health and education of children in Uganda. Her current mission brings her to FIMRC health clinic in Bumwalukani, Bududa, where she volunteers in public health outreach to educate youth about nutrition, family planning and malaria prevention. Allison shares her stories with Gazebo News as she writes to us from Uganda in a series of personal letters.
The sunny, dry days have now turned cool and wet. It feels like the rainy season, as the sun emerges for just a few hours each day. The medical interns have left their wet clothes on the line, anticipating dry days again. I’ve given up and attempt to dry my clothes in my small bunk area, but it sill takes several days for a pair of socks to dry. The villagers worry that the rain will impact the harvest, possibly making food a scarce commodity.
As the villagers anxiously await a change in weather, the staff at FIMRC health clinic anxiously awaits the return of electricity. We’ve been running the generator for nearly two weeks now, which powers the microscope for malaria tests. In addition to this critical power need, a passionate physician from York and his wife donated a computer network to improve patient flow, diagnostic accuracy and to serve as a chronological record of patients’ conditions for epidemiology. The new network has propelled this crude yet highly effective clinic into the 21st century. Rather than exchanging tiny pieces of scrap paper between patient and doctor, communication now flows in real time between the medical stations, which serve the 60-plus patients that come through the clinic each day.
The clinic’s physical building is a cement block, the size of a small ranch house divided into four rooms and two small annexes. On the veranda, patients queue up at Station 1 for Patient Intake, providing details like name, sub-county and village. As they wait to enter Station 2 for vitals, patient educators use visual aids made of grain sacks to educate the patients about a variety of topics including sanitation, nutrition, STI’s, malaria and HIV prevention. Large graphics help the largely illiterate population understand the concepts of collecting water from the borehole rather than the stream and the importance of digging latrines for human waste. The patient educators serve the vital function of preventive care that is so critical to elimination, prevention and control of disease.
In addition to the clinic’s onsite patient educators, FIMRC has a significant Community Health Education outreach program. During my first few days here, I accompanied the Health Outreach Coordinator, Richard, in the market as he quickly drew a crowd and promoted the benefits of condom use against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The crowd was fascinated — as was I — to see such an attentive and engaged audience. Imagine the scene below:
Richard and I walked to the trading center at 5:00 pm, typically a time when idle villagers gather for socializing and some communal drinking out of a calabash. Richard approached a small gathering of five, and within the hour, he was preaching to a crowd of 50 about STI’s and HIV prevention. Nearly all villagers are familiar with HIV, but far fewer are familiar with gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia. No one heckled or shooed us away. In fact, listeners seemed appreciative and curious as they asked Richard questions about symptoms, warning signs and prevention. The audience discussed the subject matter very openly amongst themselves and looked to Richard as a valuable source of information.
In a culture where people have limited, if any, access to television, radio, books or the Internet, this kind of information isn’t passed along too easily. FIMRC’s outreach model is highly effective, and I was told that four villagers came to the clinic the following days for prophylactics.
As I write this letter, an acting troop is dramatizing the benefits of immunizations, just outside the clinic. I stepped out to record the dramatization and will upload it to my website when I get the bandwidth. Once again, a great method to provide information and educate the public about preventive healthcare.
The sun has now come out and our clothes are dry, but no one seems to know when the district will regain electrical power. As a result, we’ll keep running the generator and hope that Umeme (Uganda’s version of Com Ed) will take some action. In the meantime — to those people who have asked me how they can help — if anyone would like to make a contribution toward solar panel installation at the health clinic, the patients and staff would be most grateful. Solar installation costs $1,502 and will also enable the clinic to refrigerate medicine and lab tests. You can visit FIMRC’s website and earmark donations for “Bududa Solar.”
More later. I must now attend to a cow that has been donated by a Lake Forest family to our HIV+ club and their families. More on this next week.
Miss you all,