There are many hospitals in Uganda. There are also many small clinics and pharmacies. Most of the time, you can go to a pharmacy and tell them your symptoms and they can prescribe something for you. No doctor’s note required. No prescription. Just an inadequately trained person giving you medicine. Sometimes it is convenient because you may know what is wrong and the medicine is easily accessible. Not always the best choice, but it is the most affordable.
Then there are the small clinics. Great for malaria tests or treatments, or typhoid, or something very straight forward and easily diagnosable. They are also kind of affordable, but a bit more expensive then guessing and asking at the pharmacy. The staff aren’t always well-trained and not sure of the credentials that they have, but treating things like malaria and typhoid are pretty straight forward. They have done it thousands of times and I don’t think that they could mess it up. I would imagine those are the two reasons that people go to the clinics, but you can also get teeth removed at most clinics. Filling cavities hasn’t really taken off here and real dentists are insanely expensive, so instead, they just remove the tooth.
Then there are the hospitals. There are fancy international ones, where a simple cut on your finger would probably cost hundreds of thousands of shillings, but the doctors are legit and well trained and the hospitals are well equipped. Most people, including us, cannot afford such health care. There are the local hospitals where people can go for more serious things. Maybe some of them have well trained doctors, but the hospitals are always lacking in resources and misdiagnosis happen frequently. For example, we took a boy that was complaining of abdominal pain to one. They did a proper ultrasound and blood test, but then read the results wrong. They diagnosed him with acute appendicitis and sent him home with malaria medicine and multi-vitamins. We took him to one of the fancy ones for a second opinion, and turned out he had amoebas.
Then there is the free hospital. This is where most people go for anything from HIV treatment to having babies to cancer. The doctors are pretty legit. I think they are well trained and know their stuff. However, the hospital is so overwhelmed. There aren’t enough resources or space to accommodate the hundreds of people that show up every day. Every accident that happens in Kampala, the victims are taken there. People travel from all over Uganda to come to this hospital. It is impossible for them to keep up. I have had to go there twice in the last month. I hope I never have to go again. Imagine one nurse for 40 patients and no doctors on duty at all time. Each patient has to have someone staying with him/her full-time. The attendants are responsible for bathing the patient, bringing food and feeding, giving medicines, making beds, basically everything. If a patient doesn’t have an attendant, someone to remind people he is there, the outcome isn’t good. There aren’t always enough beds, so some patients sleep on the floor. The beds that they do have are old, smelly, and dirty. All patients are in one room, no privacy, no space, and lots of noise.
Did I mention that before you are seen, you have to pay? Imagine, you need a surgery, your appendix or whatever is killing you, and before they will begin to give you treatment, you must pay. You can’t pay, you don’t get treated regardless of the outcome.
It seems like a hopeless situation. Sometimes it is, but during my 2 visits to the free hospital, I saw rays of light. One guy, helped us both times get the boys the scans and X-rays they needed. He helped us get transferred to the right wards and get beds. He checked in on us and got doctors to see us. He made a really stressful and unfamiliar situation so much easier. Then there was an amazing doctor that saved the second boy’s life. I don’t doubt that without her, he would have died. I arrived in the morning and found him in a terrible state. He was having seizures, still bleeding, and no one was doing anything. I asked for help, no one could provide any, and then she showed up. She jumped right in and started treating him and stabilizing him. He was still confused and fighting, and she put her safety aside and did what needed to be done to help him. She found the meds that were needed. She was amazing.
There are always rays of hope in every situation. The hospital is a scary place, lacking resources, but there were people that really did care. They turned our nightmare around. I ask that you would lift those two up in your thoughts and prayers so they can keep doing a seemingly impossible work, that their hearts would be renewed each day and they wouldn’t burn out. I ask that you pray for other healthcare workers also, that they would remember that their patients are real people, with real families, and they deserve the best care possible. And I ask that you would pray for a system that is broken all over the world and that people that have a heart for healing others would rise up and join the system and work to change it. And I ask that you pray for the patients suffering in the system, without hope, and their families that have to sit idly by and watch their loved ones die because there is no other option.