The last week has been a little bit of a change of pace for us. We thought that since we had taught for a good two straight weeks it was time for something different. ;-) So after classes on Monday we headed off to Mbarara for a training - Malaria Prevention and Control. The training was a result of Obama’s PMI (Presidential Malaria Initative), an effort to eradicate malaria in the countries being hit hardest by the disease. It was held at possibly the nicest hotel in this region of the country, Lakeview Resort Hotel (yes apparently it is both resort and hotel, one of those names didn’t suffice). We were joined at the training by our Director of Studies, Smith, who it turns out was already really interested in Malaria prevention. Most Peace Corps trainings will include your Ugandan community counterpart so that the impact of the training will outlast you, in theory. The training, as well as being interesting, was also a great chance to meet some more of the CHED (Community Health and Economic Development) volunteers primarily from the group that started sixth months before us.
The majority of the week was spent learning more about the Malaria parasite, and the complexities of how it transmits through mosquitoes. We also learned some statistics about the extent of the malaria disease in Uganda, and around the world. Malaria annually affects 300 million people, and during that period results in about 1 to 3 million deaths. Most of the deaths occur among children under the age of 5 and pregnant mothers. Pregnant mothers are more likely to contract malaria because they have an increased body heat during pregnancy which attracts more mosquitoes. In Uganda, 25% of people going to hospitals are because of malaria. Finally, 20% of childhood deaths in Ugandan hospitals are due to malaria. The most surprising thing about malaria in Uganda, and maybe around the world, is that it is not a huge concern to the vast majority of the population. Because the people that it affects most fatally are those who don’t really have a voice in society, primarily children under 5.
We also got the opportunity to go into the community around Mbarara to see how malaria plays out on a local level. The first place we visited was the Mbarara regional referral hospital. So any cases from the southwest region of Uganda which can not be dealt with at the local level are brought there, and it is also the local community hospital. We split up into four groups and we each visited a different area of the hospital. So I visited the records department (so exciting!) and Emily visited the OB-GYN section of the hospital (I don’t remember what the Ugandans call this section). Malaria can have many negative effects to pregnant women, including miscarriages (which Emily had the unfortunate opportunity to witness in the hallway).
Being at the hospital was eye opening for many reasons. It was good to know about the quality of health care in Uganda, and the care our colleagues/students would receive if they needed it. It is interesting because public health care in Uganda is free to anyone who would use it, even just tourists passing through. But availability seems to also equal lack of quality. While we were there the aftermath from a Boda-Boda (motorcycles) accident came in, and it was insane to see the treatment of the people. One of the men was really rough and did not look alive but he had been wheeled around on a metal gurney for a good twenty minutes before anyone even checked his vital signs, to know that he was dead (and in the end it was the doctor touring us who checked this, and he didn’t even work there).
The next day we got to visit a member of the Village Health Team. These are volunteers who work in the community to spread health messages from the local government. It was interesting hearing about the work that she does, even though we lost a bit in translation. So over all it was good to hear the facts and figures of malaria, and then go out to see it in the community.
Finally, on the last day of the conference we made an action plan with our counterparts about how we will bring the knowledge back to our places of work. So we hope to be doing various things to educate the students at our PTC, and also to work on eliminating mosquito breeding grounds on the campus. The hardest thing about malaria prevention is that almost every Ugandan already knows how to prevent malaria, but prevention requires effort and money while the treatment once you get it is free. Another stumbling block is that the primary means of prevention, being mosquito nets, are hard to find affordable. But hopefully as the malaria initiative integrates into Uganda there will be a large influx of nets. Overall, the malaria workshop was very informative for many reasons, and hopefully we will have the knowledge to work on prevention at our school.
The conference was also the longest we have been away from wonderful House 11 at Bushenyi PTC, and it was nice to be home again. We found out the day after we got home that the Boda drivers at the stop in front of our house are convinced that we had or got a kid while we were gone, and that was what was in our big green duffle bag. We found this out through our friend Jean, who was told by her co-worker (no secrets in Uganda!). So apparently everyone there is waiting in anticipation for when we reveal the child. The funny/scary thing was that this was the consensus of the group of about twenty people, and that having a child in a bag was plausible!
Well that is all of our crazy adventures from the past week! Hope you are all doing well.
Ryan (and Emily)