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Sick kids in Uganda

I’ve returned from yet another incredibly moving journey to Uganda. It never ceases to amaze me how a country with so many political, health and financial problems manages to put me at incredible ease. Every one of my visits is different, and that’s the exciting part - I never know who I will meet, or what wonderful interaction I will have that will be etched in my memory for days (years!) to come. My time spent in Jinja was shorter this trip, but I spent many of my days with TUSC (Yakub). It seems my “focus” while in Uganda seems to centre around healthcare of all kinds, so spending time with Yakub is always very enlightening.

One day that I spent with Yakub was particularly poignant for two reasons: many kids were involved, and all the health issues they faced were largely preventable (or if not completely preventable, a very good healthcare solution existed in The West).

We began our day going to meet Florence, a sweet eleven-year-old girl who was palliative due to a tumour on her eye. Florence was lovely, and it was clear that she was not only in incredible discomfort, but feeling a lot of shame due to the size of the tumour growing on her face. I was moved by her grace as usual - through TUSC sadly, I have met many sick young kids who seem to manage their sickness with a real acceptance. Some might say a “resignation”, which of course is so sad and frustrating for someone from The West, but that’s a discussion for another post! Here’s the upsetting part (aside from the fact that this child had a huge tumour growing on here eye, which in The West would likely not be the situation): Florence was likely a victim of a very poor and broken healthcare system:

  1. Since healthcare is unaffordable for many, her mom likely didn’t seek treatment soon enough (or at least not the continuous treatment that is required in a serious case such as this). No money = no doctor.

  2. When her Mom did seek treatment, the tumour was initially diagnosed as benign and removed. The tumour eventually came back and was found to be malignant. Was an error made by the Pathologist or somewhere else along the line? We will never know.

  3. When the tumour returned and was found to be malignant, it was too far along for Florence to receive any type of treatment that might save her life.

Who knows what would have happened to Florence should she have been born in Canada or the UK or America, but likely this situation would have turned out very differently. Even if the tumour wasn’t curable, I know for sure that she would not be spending her last few days as she is now.

Our second visit was to Nalufenya Children’s Hospital to meet a young girl who was HIV positive and had been admitted to the ER the day previous because she was very sick. (From what little I could understand; her dad had not been administering her ARV drugs.) When we arrived, we met the nurse in the ER, and we were very quickly told that the child IMMEDIATELY needed drugs and to go get them. The child’s father was nowhere to be found, so Yakub immediately ran from the hospital to fulfill the nurses request. This young girl who was about 7 years old was on a breathing tube, and was clearly struggling to breathe. (I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know what her official diagnosis was, but I’m guessing that she likely had some sort of pneumonia.) Yakub returned a few minutes later and provided the drugs to the nurse. We visited the child, and tried to provide some comfort to the poor thing who was very scared and uncomfortable. My heart was in pieces, and I felt helpless. Upon leaving the hospital, we ran into the father who had taken long to return because he didn’t have the money for the medication, so had to run about town borrowing from friends and family. Later that night, Yakub sadly received a phone call reporting to us that the child had died. Another crushing blow to me and Yakub, and yet another example of a death that was likely very preventable should decent healthcare infrastructure have been available.

While at Nalufenya Children’s Hospital, Yakub also spotted another young child he knew who was also in the ER. This young boy was about nine and suffered from Type I diabetes. His mother had brought him to the hospital because his blood sugar had dropped so low. Being from a family of Diabetics, I am aware of the risks and damage to the body from severe variation in blood sugar. (For one, it’s very bad for the kidneys.) I can’t be sure, but I can guess with a lot of certainty, that this child was not on any sort of Insulin, and likely his mother had never been taught about how to manage a child with Type I Diabetes. She likely didn’t even understand what to do to help prevent the huge fluctuations in blood sugar that her child would experience if he didn’t eat properly, or in proper intervals. So here again was an example of a child that likely wouldn’t make it to his 20th birthday due to a lacking universal healthcare system.

Thank goodness for TUSC end everything it does! Huge shout out to Yakub, for he really is the backbone of the organization. TUSC’s “mandate” is a small piece of the puzzle, but its an imperative part. There are so many issues with healthcare in Uganda. We need to be grateful for those organizations (government and NGO) who do what they can – and do a fantastic job – to help the sick in Uganda.

*Special mention to my friend Yakub; he really is a leader in his community. Yakub builds relationships, is proactive, and sets a fantastic example of (as he says!) nationalism for Ugandans. Most of all – and it’s not hard to tell – HE CARES ABOUT HIS COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE.

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