Bwindi doctor: Thank you for all the support
Editor’s note: Eva Boyd is working at the Bwindi Community Health Center as an elective during her last year in medical school.
I am a medical student volunteer at the Bwindi Community Health Center. I am writing to thank you for your generous support of this amazing organization and to share my experiences as a volunteer.
I am a fourth year medical student at UC Irvine, and I am spending one of the last months before I graduate in Bwindi.
I remember hearing about the work in Uganda more than eight years ago, before I had even thought about going to medical school. During college and medical school, I grew very interested in international health and underserved communities.
Despite various challenges in getting here (including an Ebola outbreak), I arrived at the end of March and began taking care of patients in the adult and children wards.
I was amazed at all the organization has accomplished in this remote part of the world. I have traveled and volunteered in Central and South America and Tanzania, but nowhere have I encountered a community with so much suffering and in such need of help.
The children’s ward is an airy building full of light and paintings of African animals on the walls. More than half the children have protein-deficiency malnutrition (kwashiorkor), a disease rarely seen in the developed world. Children with kwashiorkor have swollen legs, skin that ulcerates and sloughs off especially around their genitals, and a high likelihood of infections such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
They also are usually irritable and have difficulty tolerating regular food, given their chronic malnutrition. As soon as they are admitted, they receive high energy milk (a combination of cow’s milk and other nutrients), vitamin supplements and antibiotics.
They also receive love and attention from the extremely caring staff. One of the best things about Bwindi Health Center is the emphasis on preventive medicine and primary care. While the children are gaining weight and learning how to play again, their mothers are learning about nutrition, clean drinking water, malaria prevention and family planning.
In the afternoons, mothers, babies and staff often gather in a circle, singing, clapping and drumming, while learning about the important components of a balanced diet.
On sunny days, the mothers sometimes work with staff and volunteers in the demonstration garden, learning how to grow vegetables and beans.
By the time the children are ready to go home, the mothers have the skills they need to keep their families healthy.
One of my favorite patients is Mackline, 4, admitted for marasmus, a state of general malnutrition even more rare than kwashiorkor, characterized by severe wasting.
When I first saw Mackline, she was lying in bed, watching my every movement with her huge brown eyes. She could barely lift her head off the bed, her limbs were emaciated, her belly swollen and the outline of her rib cage and sternum were completely visible under her taut skin.
Seeing her made me feel like throwing up or crying or screaming at the world. I know that one might become accustomed to seeing malnutrition, but coming from an American medical school where the biggest threat to our pediatric patients is obesity, I was completely overwhelmed with sadness.
Mackline gradually began to tolerate feeding. When I saw her a few days later, gulping down a cup of milk while standing in the middle of the children’s ward, I was baffled.
If it weren’t for her big brown eyes, I wouldn’t have known that the smiling child in front of me was the same one I watched struggle to lift her head. Mackline’s problems aren’t over – she was abandoned by both her parents and left in the care of her mentally unstable grandmother.
But Bwindi Health Center staff is working to find Mackline a loving home in the community.
It is hard to imagine what would happen if this hospital was not here.
Where would a mother bring her baby who has been feverish and vomiting for days? Where would a son bring his father who has collapsed in the fields? Where would a mother living with HIV give birth without infected her newborn baby with this easily preventable but deadly virus?
Bwindi Community Health Center, surrounded by banana fields, dirt roads, lush jungle and pervasive poverty, provides health, hope and opportunity for change. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this organization.
Thank you so much for your continued support!
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