The 52 Kids Foundation: Improving Health Care in Uganda

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Health care in Uganda has made considerable strides over the past 30 years. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of people with access to sanitation and clean drinking water grew by over 10 percent in this West African nation. Private health clinics were opened across the country and an influx in health care providers made it easier for once forgotten communities to access medical care. However, there are still substantial gaps in Uganda’s current health care system.

Health Care in Uganda

In the country’s rural communities, treatment can be a challenging ordeal. With no emergency services, patients are on their own for transportation, often walking or biking dozens of miles to get to a clinic or hospital. In addition, once they reach their destination, there is no guarantee whether or not they will receive the care they need. With one doctor for every 8,300 Ugandans and chronic medicine and supply shortages, treatable conditions like diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are the leading causes of death.

Despite spending slightly more on health care than the sub-Saharan average, public health campaigns often fail to reach Uganda’s rural communities. Hygiene is a major concern as many rural residents still lack running water or proper sanitation, leading to rampant gastro-intestinal infections and cholera outbreaks. Contraceptives in these communities are almost non-existent, resulting in a high HIV/AIDS rates and average household sizes that exceed six people in some regions.

Outside Aid

The Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and other nongovernmental organizations are very active in Uganda, facilitating public health efforts and providing treatment to communities in need. In the Eastern region, more specifically Kamuli, the 52 Kids Foundation has been working since 2004 to improve education opportunities and address public health concerns. Founded by University of Vermont medical student Jagger Koerner, the nonprofit partners with Vermont doctors and nurses to educate Kamuli residents on the importance of hygiene, waste disposal and other health-related problems.

Inez Bouzon, a registered nurse and former 52 Kids volunteer, sat down with The Borgen Project in Salt Lake City to talk about her time with the nonprofit. Inez traveled to Kamuli in 2016, spending her mornings volunteering in the local hospital then traveling to the rural districts in the afternoon to teach public health clinics. Meeting with local city councils and community leaders to discuss issues specific to each village, Inez and 52 Kids taught Kamuli residents affordable and effective public health solutions.

Improving Public Health

In Kamuli, communities without running water are particularly susceptible to the spread of disease as homes lack the most basic sanitation methods. With 52 Kids, Inez taught residents how to thoroughly clean water containers, while helping build tippy top sinks that can be operated with a foot pedal. She also helped build dish racks, as residents would stack wet cookware without letting them dry, leading to bacterial and mold growth. The 52 Kids Foundation ensured that hygiene and other health solutions were affordable and that materials could be locally sourced. The chimneys, dish racks and sinks could be built regardless of a person’s economic status.

In communities already struggling from economic hardship, large family sizes place a burden on hardworking mothers. Women are often dissuaded from using certain contraceptives because of the overlying religious culture. With help from the local community leaders, Inez and 52 Kids educated residents about safe sex, handing out “moon beads” that allow women to keep track of when they can have sex without getting pregnant.

Problems of Uganda’s Health Care

Working in hospitals, Inez witnessed firsthand the issues plaguing health care in Uganda. In the Kamuli hospital, there would typically be one doctor per ward, resulting in long waits and rushed care. The nurses, who often work seven days a week, would typically go home during nights. With no night staff, family members would assume the role of health care providers and those without a family would be left alone for 12 hours. With no one monitoring vitals, making sure patients eat or checking on infections, those staying overnight at the hospital were often subjected to severe health complications.

Medicine and supply shortages also affect the quality of treatment. In times of crisis, Ugandan hospitals rely on medicine donations from nongovernmental organizations or foreign aid. While working in the hospital, Inez saw a number of deaths due to scarce supplies. She says: “They had limited antibiotics, limited dressing supplies, limited iv fluid, limited tools. Some medication would be there, but some shelves would be completely empty.”

Future of Health Care in Uganda

Despite notable improvements in the past two decades, health care in Uganda still falls short in many ways. Organizations like the 52 Kids Foundation are an integral part of the country’s infrastructure, providing care to the rural communities in ways the government cannot. With the looming implementation of the historic African Continental Free Trade Agreement, Uganda’s health care system could see significant improvements. The deal intends to eliminate tariffs on intra-continental trade, making it easier for developing countries with low GDP to import medicines and health care supplies.

This could be the economic boost Uganda needs, bringing resources high in demand to places like Kamuli. The culture in Kamuli emphasizes compassion and concern for one’s neighbor. Residents are constantly looking out for each other, lending anything they could to help those in need. Despite witnessing widespread poverty, Kamali’s tightly knit community and good people of the country are positive signs for further health care development.

– Kyle Dunphey

Photo: Flickr

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