Last winter I took a course in tropical diseases as part of my long-term plan to work in developing countries when the offspring fly the nest. The course taught me about the 156 different types of mosquito, I learned about the 35 stages of the parasites life cycle and could identify the four types of malaria known to infect humans under a microscope, but I had never actually seen a patient with the disease! I needed some practical experience.
I had heard about the Allan Stone Clinic (aka Soft Power Health) in Bujagali about 10km north of Jinja on the White Nile so I volunteered to work there for a month in the rainy season, when the "mossies" were most active and malaria at its peak.
The road to Bujagali was bumpy, to say the least! Most roads in Uganda are made of red earth very dusty and potholed in the dry season, knee deep in mud and often impassable in the rainy season. I understood immediately why transportation was a major obstacle to the delivery of healthcare, or anything else, in this country. My sister calls it "the tyranny of distance"
The clinic was the brainchild of a young American doctor, Jessie Stone, who was kayaking on the White Nile eight years ago and couldnt help but notice the poverty and untreated illness in the local population. Rather than walk on by, she raised enough money to build and equip a community clinic to provide affordable and accessible healthcare. It is staffed by Ugandan health professionals, who speak the language and understand local customs and beliefs. Jessie continues to work and fundraise tirelessly it is a long-term commitment, and attracts no government funding.
Outreach programmes are offered to remote and impoverished villages without access to healthcare. Families of eight or more children are the norm and many women, desperate to limit their families, see the family planning clinics as a lifeline. On my first day there, I found myself handing out condoms under a mango tree, and giving contraceptive injections and checking blood pressures in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser.
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