Kigezi Healthcare Foundation – Official Blog

KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda

On Doctoring, Learning & Loving Pineapples – Q & A with U of C Med Students

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Kim Kavanagh & Rachel Han with patient

Two medical students from the University of Calgary (Canada) – Rachel Han and Kimberly Kavanagh – fulfilled their global health practicums by volunteering with KIHEFO from June- June 2013.

Here’s what these two thoughtful, talented and fun-loving students had to say about their time with The KIHEFO Family!

KIHEFO: What was one of your fears before coming to Uganda?

Kim: As a medical student and an incurable keener, I was nervous about how well my educational experience working in the KIHEFO clinic would stack up against my peers who were staying in Canada and training in hospitals with abundant resources and cutting-edge equipment.

I realized my fears were unfounded the moment I met Dr. Anguyo, Allan and all the KIHEFO staff. I have never worked with people so excited, knowledgeable and willing to teach.

Whether it was blood slides with the stages of malaria or seeing outpatients in clinic, we had the opportunity and freedom to study medicine from every angle. I learned an incredible amount about tropical medicine from Allan, but I learned even more about how to incorporate cultural and socioeconomic considerations into patient care. 

Volunteering with KIHEFO I learned how to be a better doctor, but more importantly this experience taught me how to be a better human being.

KIHEFO: Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences at KIHEFO.

Rachel: One of my favourite memories with KIHEFO is when I went on the HIV mobile clinic trip to a remote village with Dr. Anguyo and the HIV clinic nurses. This monthly trip is organized by KIHEFO for a free of charge for the patients living in rural areas with such a big health burden as HIV. They often don’t have enough money to see doctors or pay for transportation; or they don’t have enough time as many need to devote their whole day farming, or fetching water from a well many hours away. And with a great shortage of doctors in Uganda, there aren’t just enough doctors to practice in rural areas. 

I realized that these patients in the village have a very limited access to healthcare. We saw people from all over the neighbouring regions. I heard that some of them still had to cross rivers or climb mountains and walk 5+ hrs just to see us in that rural community.

That day, we had a long line-up of people, and Dr. Anguyo had Kim and I see the patients on our own together. We helped the patients with their medical problems by taking their history, performing physical examinations, and discussing appropriate medical plans with them. It was heartbreaking and distressing to see some of the cases which should have received medical attention and care a lot earlier – like the woman who had chronic chest pain and dyspnea for many years, or the man who possibly has been developing diabetes without noticing it himself. There were many unfortunate cases of bad infections that could have easily been prevented if given a proper education on hygiene or on the importance of boiling water, for instance.

Overall, I felt great being able to contribute and help, though it was little, and I was also very grateful that there is an organization like KIHEFO to care enough to make regular free trips for this much vulnerable and marginalized population of rural HIV patients.

KIHEFO: What was one your biggest learning moments? 

Kim: For me, volunteering at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center was a huge learning experience. I didn’t realize how many misconceptions I held about the issue until I had the opportunity to speak with people [at the Centre]. It’s not simply a problem of lacking money to buy food; it’s a truly multi-factorial issue. From Dr. Anguyo, I [learned about] infant malnutrition due to cultural taboos against breastfeeding while pregnant. Talking with staff yielded discussions on economic reforms that forced communities to switch from subsistence farming to cash crops. Community members spoke of carbohydrate-only diets due to ignorance regarding the importance of protein and vitamins.

Volunteering with KIHEFO, I learned to see issues like malnutrition from a variety of angles with the assistance of people who struggle with this problem daily. I was also able to see the projects working to address the issue. Ranging from educational radio shows to outpatient nutritional clinics, the KIHEFO nutritional initiatives are as multifaceted as the problem itself. It was an intense but rewarding educational experience that I know will have a lasting impact.

KIHEFO: What advice would you give any other student considering coming to Uganda to volunteer with KIHEFO?

Rachel: Be flexible, come with the attitude of a learner. Be pro-active in your learning. Don’t sit around and wait. Look for things to do, ask around and go for it!

KIHEFO: What do you miss the most? (Beside the pineapple)* 

Kim: While I do miss the pineapple an undeniable amount, more importantly I miss the people I ate pineapple with!  I came to KIHEFO hoping to gain some knowledge and experience, but I ended up gaining a whole family.

The KIHEFO family is something I am honoured to be a part of. I have never met a group of individuals who give so wholeheartedly of themselves to their community, each contributing unique stories, skills and strengths.

The thing I miss most is spending every day working hard and laughing harder alongside people who have and continue to inspire me.

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Kim & Rachel – proving that learning about rural global health can be educational and fun!

*Living in Canada, country of tropical-fruit imports, Kim and Rachel really, really loved eating the Ugandan grown pineapple. And we loved eating pineapple with them!

To conclude, KIHEFO is very grateful for the hard work, enthusiasm and dedication that Kim and Rachel shared with us from June – July 2013. We wish you both the best of luck in medical school!

If you’re interested in volunteering or getting involved with KIHEFO, please visit our website – click here.

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