On a mission for prisoners in Uganda: “We wanted to offer medical help – they touched our hearts”

by Gunter Müller/SRA,  2010/12/09

In cooperation with our partner organisation Prison Fellowship International (PFI), humedica is running medical missions in prisons all over the world. In the past doctor teams of humedica were on various missions in prisons for example in Columbia. Our medical team members care for the prisoners, as well as for their families and the prison staff.

Motivated by the Christian guiding principle of love for your fellow persons, Prison Fellowship has the objective of helping prisoners all over the world to reintegrate into society. Last month, internist Dr Gunter Müller and a team of medics and nursing staff set out on a relief mission to several prisons in the landlocked East African state of Uganda. He tells about his experiences for humedica.

Dr Gunter Müller was deeply impressed by the prisoners’ optimism – but to the same degree he was also sad about other experiences. Photo: humedica/archive

“At the beginning of November, our team, consisting of Dr Stefan Mohr (urologist), Dr Sonja Küster (gynaecologist), Dr Johannes Höß and Dr Renate Schilling (general practitioners), Steffi Glaser (midwife), as well as Marion Wund and Silke Klumpp (nurses), went on a relief mission to Kampala in the Republic of Uganda. For two weeks we visited prisons in Jinja, Kitalya and Luzira in the regions surrounding the capital of Uganda, in order to treat persons suffering from diseases and in need for help.

Many of the convicts at the prisons suffer from malaria, diseases of the upper airways, infections and skin diseases, worm infections or they complain about otolaryngologic problems. During our mission we could examine and offer treatment to a total of about 1,900 patients.

By African standards the conditions in the Ugandan prisons were good. We were impressed to experience the importance of faith and religion in the prisoners’ lives. At a women’s ward at one of the prisons a proper community had been formed; they had a minister, a community eldest and deaconesses.

We were particularly surprised when we visited the so-called “condemned section” at the prison of Jinja. This was the name of the prison ward the inmates of which – more than 230 men – had been sentenced to death (note: in Uganda death penalty is still in conformity with the constitution; however, it has not been enforced for some time. Source: Amnesty Report 2010). What were we to expect? Depressive, apathetic and aggressive people?

It was an overwhelming experience to meet the men: they were clad in white, singing cheerfully, dancing, praying and grateful. Most of them had converted to Christianity during their time at prison and had changed their lives radically. It was touching to see those men. We wanted to offer them medical help – they touched our hearts.

Obviously the prisoners were highly pleased about the spectacles and reading spectacles we had brought for them. Many of them were finally able to see and read better once more! Our team distributed more than 200 spectacles and about 80 reading spectacles among the prisoners. And then we bought another 100 reading spectacles right in Uganda.

During our mission we realised that the important thing is not necessarily to treat as many patients as possible. Often it is rather the depth of conversations that offers the opportunity of treatment – in particular regarding psychosomatic problems.

Other experiences, however, were very sad. We were told in conversations that many young persons often had to serve long sentences for only minor crimes. Many young persons aged 17 to 23 often remained in custody waiting for their sentences for up to two years. Furthermore, there does not seem to be a counterpart to youth custody or juvenile law enforcement in Uganda.

Looking back, our team is very grateful for this mission and for the fact that all of us have returned safe and sound. In cooperation with our African friends we could offer medical, social and personal aid to the prisoners. We know that we have contributed to restoring health and social acceptance for the prisoners and their families.

Furthermore, we are pleased about the excellent cooperation during our mission, which was based on partnership and friendship. This cooperation was a useful and pleasant experience not only for the humedica team, but also for our partners from Prison Fellowship International and Prison Fellowship Uganda (PFI-Uganda)”.

On a mission for prisoners in Uganda (from left to right): Dr Gunter Müller, Dr Renate Schilling, Steffi Glaser, Silke Klumpp, Dr Sonja Küster, Dr Stefan Mohr, Marion Wund, Dr. Johannes Höß, Aklilu Tadesse (Africa Director of PFI), Irene Namwano (Executive Director PFI Uganda). Foto: humedica

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