Who Needs an Axle? Notes from Uganda

On a recent Saturday morning, I met Dr. Robert, Uganda's only nephrologist (kidney specialist), a professor of medicine at Mulago Hospital, and the director of Caring Hands, an NGO that provides funding for patients who can't afford treatment for surgery.

Dr. Robert inspires -- he grew up in an orphanage, made his way through secondary school by singing in the African Children's Choir and managed to receive scholarships to attend Yale for a residency program. He chose to return to Uganda, earning a tiny fraction of what we might have made as a doctor overseas, to serve his country.

We were blown away by the size of the problem in Uganda, where, in some clinics, one doctor serves a catchment area of 120,000 people.

Dr. Robert graduates seven surgeons per year from his program, only two of whom stay in Uganda. In neighboring Rwanda, doctors can earn three times more than they do here. He thinks additional funding to clinics to relieve the pressure on doctors to find their own supplies can make a huge impact.

We then set out from Kampala to Fort Portal to meet Dr. Priscilla of Virika Hospital. The drive was a disaster -- the axle of our truck fell off entirely. Twice. But we managed to make it for a Sunday morning meeting. Dr. Priscilla is a nun and the only ob/gyn in all of Western Uganda. She is severely under-resourced but runs a tight ship -- her hospital had 220 beds and a data department to track patient information. Incredibly impressive.

Finally, we traveled to a rural area outside Fort Portal called Nkuruwa. There, the enterprising Sister Gertrude runs a tiny clinic without power (she's managed to get a solar panel to run a fridge for vaccines) that serves 20,000 people. They treat many pregnant women with severe cases of malaria. I met one woman who was nine months in and burning up on an IV -- she would have died without treatment.

Avoidable death due to lack of funds for proper care is common in this part of the world. Hamza, one of our drivers, told us that he had just lost his beloved five-month-old daughter to pneumonia. He'd taken her to the best hospital he could afford, but the doctor there didn't work on weekends. At the more pricey private hospital nearby that caters to expatriates, doctors work 24/7.

Poverty assigns a different moral worth to human life. Nowhere is this more clear than in access to basic medical care in poor places. We are proud at Samahope to add new medical partners in Uganda to create a new reality for thousands of people who will no longer suffer needlessly.

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