Heather Brown, MD
Heather Brown, MD
Emergency Medicine · Columbia, SC

OneWorld Health Uganda Outreach Team

December 8th
Masindi, Uganda

Project Description

The team will set up an outreach clinic (registration, triage, provider, pharmacy, physical therapy, dental) in OneWorld Health partnered schools and churches in the surrounding communities of Masindi, Uganda. These medical outreaches promote our permanent medical center, serve the communities we have committed to, refer patients and set a precedent for quality healthcare throughout the region.

We will treat 200+ patients daily educate patients on continued healthcare at permanent OneWorld Health facilities. The clinic serves a rural population. Nearly 20% of patients are children under the age of five and 60% of patients have five+ members in their household. More than 32% of patients are from the poorest quartile of Uganda, 13% are in wealthiest.

In addition to the outreach clinics, I will spend time at OneWorld Health's permanent hospital Masindi Kitara Medical Center evaluating patient impact of a trauma registry I developed and implemented in March of 2017. We hope that the information collected through this process will guide future public health initiatives and targeted trauma training for hospital staff.

Trip Photos & Recap

The plastic Christmas tree in the lobby looks out of place with its colored flashing lights and glittering garland. It seems it is frantically trying to draw attention to itself, to remind everyone that it’s December – the week before Christmas. I had forgotten. I am sweating…a lot. And after being delayed by a day due to cancelled flights and then another thirty hours of traveling, I have finally arrived in Uganda. I am jet lagged, feeling ill, and not in the Christmas spirit. I am with a team of 20 other equally exhausted new friends and old acquaintances who have made the journey to Uganda with me. We have all come to provide free healthcare in mobile clinics in the areas surrounding the town of Masindi. Some have been here before, others are having their very first Ugandan experience, and a couple are seeing the world beyond the US for the first time. I would fall into that first category; this is my fourth time in Uganda. But right at the moment we are all just dirty, exhausted Americans in a foreign land, looking for a place to rest for the night and the Entebbe Inn with its little twinkling Christmas tree will do just fine.

Masindi is a town in Western Uganda, about a five-hour drive from the Entebbe airport…when traffic is good. But, since we were a day delayed getting out of the US due to winter storm Benji, it is Monday morning and driving through the capital city of Kampala on a Monday morning is decidedly not good. Luckily, the chaotic streets of an African capital city have a lot to offer the weary traveler in a 16 passenger van. There are a multitude of brightly colored roadside fruit stands, motorcycles everywhere, people and chickens wandering the busy streets, and more than one goat eating from a large pile of roadside trash. Closer to Masindi we even encounter a makeshift parade lead by a marching band. Eventually we reach the Masindi Hotel and begin a whirlwind afternoon of medication sorting, clinic planning, and getting to know one another a little better. It’s another exhausting day, but the anticipation of our first day caring for patients in the villages fuels us and we are ready.

It’s still early morning when we pull up to the school house in a rural Ugandan village which will serve as our clinic for the day. There is a line around the building and it’s clear that a lot of these people have spent the night here…waiting. The opportunity to receive medical care, here, in their own village is not a small thing. Our team starts pulling plastic bins filled with supplies and medications from the top of the passenger vans in which we arrived and in less than an hour we have a working clinic complete with a well-stocked pharmacy. Finally, we can start seeing patients.

Most of the 200 or so patients we see each day in these temporary clinics have minor complaints, but a few have more serious illnesses. We are lucky to be able to refer them to the OneWorld Health hospital in Masindi, where we know they will receive exceptional care. My first few patients of the day are minor complaints – chronic back pain, a foot wound, a fungal rash. Then, there are siblings with fever who both test positive for malaria. An older lady with a cane is next and slowly makes her way to my work station and slides onto the bench across from me. We begin to discuss why she has come today, why she uses the cane, how long she has had her symptoms. I ask her if she has ever seen a doctor before. She replies no. Her complaints are simple, mostly joint pain from a lifetime of manual labor as a farmer in this village. I am not going to save this woman’s life or provide a magic pill that will relieve all of her suffering. All I can provide her is an opportunity to be heard and examined, to explain her ailments to her to the best of my abilities, and offer to answer any questions about her health. It’s a small thing, really. Most of us have had the experience many times over a lifetime in both times of illness and well checks. But here in Uganda, where there is about 1 physician per 10,000 people, it’s a much bigger thing. I took her hand to help her up. She drew me in and said “Thank you,” and she meant it. It was then I realized that not only I had given my first gift of the holiday season, but had also received one in return. Suddenly, despite the heat and fatigue – it really did feel like Christmas in Uganda.