Medical professionals share expertise with doctors and nurses in Uganda
The staff members at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lacor, Gulu, Uganda, do the best they can to care for their patients. The 483-bed hospital has up to 700 patients a day with patients sleeping on the floors or outside under the trees. There is not enough staff, and while many are well-trained, others have just basic training and others are learning on the job. Supplies are short and the temperatures can reach 48 degrees with high humidity.
Canadian and other medical teams are welcomed for the supplies and equipment they bring and for the training they provide.
Vernon surgeon Dr. Ghee Hwang has visited the hospital several times and has brought Vernon medical staff with him.
“I teach the doctors and we have put together a course with books for nurses. There is no standardized training for nurses in the country and they were quite excited to have this opportunity. We want to train the nurses so that they will be able to train others; that way, they help themselves and won’t always need someone else coming in,” he said.
Vernon Jubilee Hospital nurse Ronda Furlan went to Uganda for the first time last March.
“I was at the last fundraiser and I knew I just had to go. We did the course and worked on the wards,” she said. “This is a referral hospital and we had patients from all over Uganda and Congo and South Sudan where there is still fighting, and a lot of motorcycle accidents, as that is one of the main means of transport there, as well as everything else you could think of.
“It was so interesting to see the different customs. The nurses who had babies would just take time off to go home and breast feed them. Working for the hospital is a good job, and staff members live on the grounds and get school for their children. Part of their pay is a bag of sugar a month. The like their sugar in their tea. There is a British background there so they spoke some English and we learned a little Acholi and Swahili.”
While the Vernon team of Hwang and five medical staff members felt safe, they were taking a real risk, with outbreaks of ebola, which has no treatment and is usually fatal, and with 15 per cent of surgical patients having HIV. The team was able to teach hospital staff to use universal precautions, including gowns, goggles, gloves and bleach and bring some supplies.
“The nurses were very proud to get a diploma for the three-week course and wore white dresses and their caps for the graduation ceremony. Everyone was very welcoming and appreciated us being there,” said Furlan. “Some still email us even though they have to go to the city and pay to use the Internet. The hospital has only two computers.
“We were able to help with suggestions for improvements that would not cost anything or could be done with what they have. I can’t wait to go back. I have to.”
The Vernon team also included Heidi Schelb Fackler, LPN, operating room technician; Denise Nelson, RN; Marian Hembroff, RN; and Annette Timm, LPN, sterilization technician.
“We are taking as much as we can for them: hygiene products, medical supplies and equipment, soccer balls and recorders (musical instruments) for the schools, re-chargeable battery laptops,” said Hwang. “There is so much need. Every time I go back, I see something more that needs to be done.
“One problem is something we can’t do much about. The women have back problems because they carry large containers of water and other things on their heads, starting as young as age three. But we can help with so many other things. When someone has gone on a trip like this they always want to go back.”
The Apwoyo Gulu fundraiser takes place Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. at The Schubert Centre in Vernon. The event includes an African dinner, slide show, silent auction and entertainment with a no-host bar. The cost is $30 per person. All profits will go toward educational materials and medical supplies and equipment for St. Mary’s Hospital in Lacor, Gulu, Uganda, on a visit next March. The project is done in affiliation with CNIS (Canadian Network for International Surgery) to teach peri-operative nursing and provide surgical training for Ugandan doctors. For tickets please contact Furlan at 250-549-2898 or Teresa Hwang at 250-549-1356.