About normal abnormal workdays and their challenges

by Sabine Kirchner/RBU,  2013/01/07

While in Germany, at the end of November, people had to face the sudden onset of winter, the physician Sabine Kirchner found herself in Central Africa in mainly sunny weather, only at times interrupted by heavy downpours of rain. The general practitioner from the Erzgebirge [Ore Mountains, Eastern Germany], served as a humedica volunteer in Uganda, where she provided medical treatment for refugees on the border to the neighbour country of Kongo. She experienced that the normality of a workday in Uganda looked very different from that of a workday in Germany.

Marvelling at the "Muzungus": fair-skinned people are something extraordinary, especially for the children in African countries. Photo: humedica/Sabine Kirchner

“While I am still overwhelmed by the marvellous mountain scenery with its abundant vegetation on our drive from Kigali to Kisoro, the children at the roadside wave to us with a friendly “Muzungu (note: white people), how are you?“.How many times will we have heard these words during the 15 days of our mission? They look at us, expectantly, with their wide eyes. Soon, there is a smile on their faces.

Most of them cannot go to school since their parents cannot afford the school fees of 10.000 Ugandan shillings a month (the equivalent of approx. 3.30 euros). The little ones merrily parrot the few English words of the older children.

Often, their bodies are emaciated, yet their stomachs are bloated and often filled with parasites. Sometimes you can hear a timid “I’m hungry” slipping out of their mouths and I believe them at once.

As humedica volunteers, we offer medical aid at the health post of the little town of Bunagana, on the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The local medical staff simply cannot cope with the high number of refugees, who are continuously arriving because of the civil war in the neighbour country.

One morning, Celine is brought to us. At the age of one year and seven months, the little girl weighs less than 7 kilograms. When asked about the baby’s nutrition, the emaciated mother says that she is still fully breastfeeding. I try to explain to her that the girl urgently needs some additional high energy food.

The mother looks at me with disbelieving eyes and asks me if I mean water. Thus, I realise that in Uganda, milk is a delicacy for children. A bit embarrassed, I try to convince the mother to prepare soups and purees for her baby and prescribe an iron and multivitamin preparation.

Around midday, a sick woman from the Kongo enters the room with her sick-looking baby on her back and collapses into a chair, exhausted. She tells me that she left home at about 6 in the morning and has been walking since then. The way from her home to the health post in Bunagana is not without dangers, leading up and downhill on unpaved roads.

Her little boy has a high temperature and has suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting for several days. The paracetamol syrup I give the boy is regurgitated together with several worms.

On the same day, a young mother arrives at the health post with her one-week-old twin girls and worriedly tells me that Blessing has never had stool since her birth while her sister Blessed was totally ok. Both girls had been born prematurely, the mother could not tell me their birth weight.

While the second twin – Blessed – with a weight of 1.500 grams was kicking her legs happily and sucking at her mother’s breast, Blessing, who weighed 1.600 grams, had no sucking and swallowing reflex, her temperature was too low and she moved very little. The baby had probably drunk very little since she was born.

I tell the mother that Blessing urgently needed to be fed with mother’s milk by means of a nasogastric tube until she would be strong enough to be able to drink herself, and so I write them a letter of referral to the municipal hospital of Kisoro.

For the family, this means a walk of several hours, since we haven’t got any vehicle to take patients to the hospital. Therefore, what we can do is keep the baby warm, create skin-to-skin contact, wrap the baby in a warm blanket and let them got.

While I am still advising the mother, our local nurse, Demi, comes hurrying into the treatment room with a boy and says he has a large tumor and has to be treated immediately. Colin is eight years old and has been suffering from severe scoliosis, a self-curvature of the spine, since he was born. Due to a chronic lack of oxygen, his physical development stage is that of a five-year-old.

I explain to the mother that Collin would have to get an operation and I ask Demi if this might be possible here. She shrugs her shoulders and says, maybe in the capital, Kampala. Would the family have the money to pay for such an operation? Rather not, and thus, the boy will probably never be able to rampage with his friends and climb trees. And if he was to reach adult age at all, he will not be able to do the hard work in the fields.

To give him at least a little, though short joy, I give Collin sweets and a balloon that our translator, Nick, paints with a smiling face and the lettering “Merry Christmas”.

On our way home, smiling children again call out to us from the roadside: “Muzungu, how are you?” Today I really cannot answer them with “fine”. "

Together, we can really make a difference in 2013 as well and at this point we would like to ask you sincerely to assist us in our aid efforts in Uganda. Thank you so much.

      humedica e. V.
      Reference „Refugee Aid Uganda
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

      IBAN: DE39 7345 0000 0000 04747

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