KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
KIHEFO is thrilled to publish a special guest post from Romina Pace, a medical resident from Montreal, Canada, who spent 1 month in Kabale, Uganda, volunteering with KIHEFO’s medical team in Kabale town-centre, and at several outreaches in rural Kigezi.
I’ve spent time developing countries before; however, being in the middle of extreme poverty never gets easier. Seeing rampant malnutrition, lack of access to basic healthcare and hygiene measures, and lack of basic education is heartbreaking. Knowing that without these basic human rights this cycle of poverty will only persist and continue to endanger the lives of so many. When faced with all this I’ll admit that I feel overwhelmed; there are so many intertwined issues I can’t think of where to start and how to even get anything done when faced with so many obstacles including widespread political corruption. Fortunately, the dedicated individuals at KIHEFO have unrelentingly developed numerous projects to combat illness and poverty. Their work highlights the importance of empowering a community to improve their livelihoods and their health; in addition to running a community clinic, malnutrition clinic and HIV program, where all are welcomed, KIHEFO also focuses on developing agriculture and micro-credit programs. Seeing all these projects in action was inspirational as I was actually able to see community members become inspired and take control of their lives to build a better future.
My role at KIHEFO centered around the community clinic in Kabale where I worked alongside local physicians to perform history, physical exams, develop differential diagnoses and treatment plans for both outpatients and the inpatient ward. While many rather uncommon diseases, such as malaria, brucellosis, HIV, tuberculosis and malnutrition, here in Canada were often at the top of our differential diagnoses, our familiar hypertension and diabetes were also quite frequent. It was interesting to learn how the cultural and socioeconomic difference contributed to the variation in how these illnesses were treated in Uganda in comparison to Canada; for example the lack of electricity and thus refrigeration makes the use of insulin impossible for most diabetics requiring this medication to control their illness. Moreover, counselling diabetics on an appropriate diet seemed rather futile when one learns that most of these individuals sustain themselves with Irish and sweet potatoes as this is all they can grow and often cannot afford to purchase proteins.
Additionally, Dr. Anguyo also taught me about the cultural beliefs in Uganda regarding illness. He explained how certain illness, such as albinism and sickle cell disease, were still thought to be the result of curses or witchcraft. Many still sought the aid of traditional healers for a variety of ailments. While Dr Anguyo does not believe in the practice of traditional medicine, KIHEFO works with traditional healers in educating them about certain illnesses in order to have the healers refer these patients to the clinic to get more appropriate care when necessary. Dr Anguyo understands that individuals in his community will continue to visit these healers therefore he needs to work along with them and not against them in order to best serve his community.
At the clinic, I also learned about being more creative and resourceful in making diagnoses and treatment plans in an under resourced setting. For example, the issue of lack of proteins we faced with our diabetic and malnourished patients was being tackled by KIHEFO efforts to introduce rabbit breeding to communities to introduce a sustainable source of protein into the community that could also serve as a source of income.
After our work at the clinic we had the opportunity to take part in outreach camps in rural communities, who often have no access to medical assistance, with a group of dentists and physicians along with our Uganda hosts. Through this incredible experience I learned what is involved in setting up such camps. For example, organizing translators, equipment, medications, examining room, crowd control, etc. During our time at these camps, where we had no access to labs or imaging, we met patients, distributed medication to those in need and indentified those who needed to come to the clinic for further investigations. These camps taught to me to rely more on my history and physical exam skills and less on imaging and labs, l which I’ve may have become too accustomed to using in Canada. Moreover, I learned how to work with translators which was much harder than I expected but was a very valuable experience. Finally, working with a new group of physicians, nurses and translators helped strengthen my teamwork skills.
When working in Uganda it was clear to me that helping a patient didn’t just mean treating their disease with medication. One needs to understand the cultural and socioeconomic background to know which treatment plans would be acceptable to the patient and how to prevent the recurrence of the disease, which were mostly preventable. I learned that many of the diseases faced in developing countries, such as malaria, HIV and malnutrition are preventable if you educate the community and provide them with the tools to help themselves. I also learned about some of the logistical aspects around setting up health camp anywhere or anyhow. When things didn’t run smoothly the skills I learned about thinking on the fly.
My experience with KIHEFO in Uganda has motivated me to continue to participate in humanitarian affairs. KIHEFO showed me that what seem like insurmountable obstacles can in fact be confronted. They reinforced the need for holistic approach to humanitarian work. Through this experience I’ve developed many skills that will help me in my future work in particular my ability to keep an open mind and incorporate cultural and social factors into my decision making process.
When I stepped foot in Uganda, and in fact Africa, for the first time, I was both excited and scared as I honestly didn’t know what to expect. What I did find was a wonderful group of welcoming, energetic, caring and dedicated individuals who grew to be like a second family to me. I have never experienced such a loving communal spirit before. They showed me their beautiful spirits and breathtaking country and for this I will be ever grateful.
-Testimony written by Romina Pace
KIHEFO thanks Romina for sharing her own beautiful spirit, open mind, skills and knowledge to helping KIHEFO work towards fighting poverty and disease and southwestern Uganda.
To learn more about how YOU can volunteer with KIHEFO, please visit our website – click here.