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Rotary Gives Hope to Uganda’s Ailing Poor

East Africa in Focus, News Feature, Joshua Masinde Posted: Jul 29, 2009

KALANGALA, Uganda – At Mulabana center, a remote hamlet on Uganda’s Ssese Islands, Jane Namala writhes in pain. She tightly clutches her temple with both hands. She is unable to speak but mutter a few words, expressing her excruciating pain. Namala has a dental problem and has come to the center to have her two decayed teeth extracted.

A few meters away, Aisha Nalubega has brought Tatya Nankumba, her 11-month-old baby, for medical check-up. The baby has an umbilical hernia (an elongated navel), which has given both mother and baby endless nightmares.

Dr. Patrick Kaliika, a clinical director, who examined Nalubega’s baby, referred them to Masaka District Hospital for an operation, but Nalubega could not afford to pay the hefty fees for the surgery. 
Many patients suffer haplessly for months in this area because there is no hospital or clinic nearby. The only health facility, a government-aided grade III center, is located hundreds of kilometers away. But what health service would one expect from a government-run facility when Mulago, Uganda’s national referral hospital is not up to standard? The grade III center in Kalangala is even worse. Richard Kirule, president of Rotary Club of Kampala’s Ssese Islands, said the center often lacks drugs and can’t meet patients’ health care needs.

At Mulabana Centre, patients are strewn all over, thanks to the Rotary Club. Their genuine search for medical attention is written on their nostalgic faces. For some, especially women and young children, pain, suffering and destitution are hidden beneath their smiling countenances.

Their long wait for free medical examination and free drugs, even when it is once per year, is worth it, they said. The opportunity is indeed a godsend to the inhabitants of this hitherto godforsaken area. Enthusiasm rents the air as patients willingly relate their medical woes to two doctors, two dentists and a team of Rotarians examining them.

Kirule says the free medical outreach extended to the people of Ssese Islands is usually conducted three times a year. The check ups, he said, are usually allotted to different centers within the island in order to reach a sizeable population of people in dire need of medical care.

“Coming here quarterly is not enough yet it is expensive in terms of time and money,” Kirule said. “We spend money to the tune of Ushs 2 million (about $1,000) on doctors and other expenses with drugs alone costing Ushs1 million.”

The doctors treat all kinds of ailments, including malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, typhoid, flu, ringworms, among others. They also offer counseling in nutrition and immunization.
 Dr. Kaliika said the medical team also provides HIV testing services and counseling for HIV-positive patients.

“Those who test positive are referred to Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kalangala town,” he said, adding that they also de-worm people, give supplements and distribute condoms.

Among the crowd of patients at Mulabana center were appalling dental cases such as Jane Namala and Francis Ziwa, who had their teeth extracted.

Namala said she experienced “acute headache” before her two premolar teeth were extracted.

Ziwa developed a toothache a year ago, but could not seek medical help at Kalangala district’s health center because of lack of money. He said he experienced excruciating pain for several months before he came for the free medical check-up. The dentists at Mulabana Centre only spent 15 minutes extracting Ziwa’s aching tooth.

“It was my first time to come here for dental treatment,” he said.

Services rendered at the center included refills, removal of plaque on patients’ with gum diseases and extraction of decayed teeth.

Dr. Barbarah Nabageraka, one of the dentists at the center, said they handled fewer cases of refilling compared to extractions.

She explained that many of the patients’ dental problems were caused by the types of foods they ate.

“Bad oral and personal hygiene and food like fish, which are sticky, make teeth decay quickly,” Dr. Nabageraka said.

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