It is always so lovely for me to land in Uganda, one of my second homes. Being with Adela and Herb on their first visit, it was a pleasure to experience their reactions and wonderment to the rich greenery of Uganda, the red clay ant hills, the warm and proud people, the poverty, the colors. Adela is focusing on marketing aspects for our programs and there is a regular, “Look at that billboard!” and “Wow, that building is totally wrapped in Coca Cola!” coming from her. Herb is taking it all in and both are asking a million good questions of our staff teams at all our clinics. Dr. Mina, our East-West (E/W) Africa Advocacy and Public Relations Director, has joined us throughout the trip so far (and will come to Kenya with us).
The AHF Uganda Cares team, led by Dr. Penny, is an organized, disciplined machine that moves mountains. Their testing goal for 2011 is a combined 470,000 tests — just in Uganda. They key challenge will be to successfully link 80% of the positive people into care. I have no doubt they will succeed and we will be there to help them.
The first clinic visit was to our Owino marketplace clinic in Kampala. It is the largest market in E/W Africa and a ‘first’ experience for Adela and Herb, and always a valued stop for me. Thank god no rain and mud that day. We recently moved from inside the marketplace in a small space with no running water (which we managed to operate in for 6 years) to our new, fully equipped clinic just outside the market. What an improvement! The staff toured us and Herb asked a zillion questions, soaking it all in. There was a very cheerful group of our ART-aiders there (expert clients — HIV positive clients that have been trained and volunteer to assist in clinics).
Marketplace clinics and testing programs are highly effective and a model we plan to expand to other countries. What makes more sense than to bring the services to where the people congregate — the marketplace!
The highlight of Uganda visits for most of us Americans is the day long trip to our Masaka district (rural) clinic. It takes about two and half hours each way in a bus and is always a valuable and touching experience. We arrived there on a beautiful day with no rain to a very busy and crowded clinic – there were many patients. The clinic is designed in a U shape with a starting point of registration and vitals at one tip, followed by nurse or doctor exam, counseling if needed, labs and ending with the med dispensary and follow-up appointment given. AHF Uganda Cares sees 17,000 people in that one Masaka clinic. Dr. Penny says we can scale up to 20,000 and still maintain quality care. Truly amazing.
One of our pediatric patients, little Mariam, has become a success story and I always check on her and visit her family. She was featured in our documentary film, “If Not Now..” and she journeyed to Washington DC with us to advocate Congress and the Senate to continue funding for AIDS treatment. Her family is extremely poor and last year a large group of family and friends gathered $5,000 to build them a new house. We took the AHF bus there (as far as it would go on the rough, dirt roads) and walked the last part in to the house. Mariam and family were not there, but they were fetched and we all had a great visit. It was wonderful to see her jjaja (grandmother) and her sister, Sylvia, in new, clean dresses that were bought with money my sister and I sent. It is not that hard to make a huge difference in people’s lives. Jjaja had been wearing the same ragged dress for two years. Since the last visit we had sent $500 to buy them all beds and bedding so they could get off the floor and that has been a ‘luxury’ for them. The girls love their beds.
As we left and the bus was at the end of the road, little Mariam and Sylvia ran the entire distance to stop the bus – to tell us that Mariam was out of ARVs. Since Sylvia was also sick with TB, we climbed them on board to take them back with us to the Masaka clinic to get lunch and medicine. I have never seen two tiny girls eat so much! They have very little food at their house. But Mariam is doing well – and their lives have improved tremendously.
We also had many meetings with political leaders while in Uganda and have planned the advocacy course for the next year. Donor dollars are scaling back and there is a consensus all around that countries with heavy HIV/AIDS burdens must contribute more of their own dollars to the effort. We will lobby the Ugandan Parliament to contribute more.
AHF Uganda Cares is a marvel to behold — a systematic healthcare and advocacy operation that both provides service in big numbers but has never lost the personal and gentle touch for the human being — for the lost child. We are not only saving lives, but changing lives.