Over the last year we have encountered countless number of cases of malria. One of the uphill battles we are facing is the fact that many of the villagers equate any illness, ache or pain to malaria. "It must be the malaria" is a common phrase when we visit the village. That is where our soon to be launched education program will hopefully help out. Our goal it to educate the villagers on the signs and symptoms of malaria and when it is necessary to seek treatment.
Treatment. Such a simple word and something very easy for us to obtain in the States. At any sign of serious illness we make an appointment with our local pediatrician or in severe cases rush to the local ER. If it is not serious we run to Walgreens or Walmart for medication. For the villagers we work with that is not an option, there is no Walmart on the nearest corner . Are there clinics? Yes. Are there "free" government hospitals? Yes. However the issue becomes getting transport. When you live off of less than a $1.25 a day in some cases spending 1000 Ugandan Shillings (40 cents US) for transport to the clinic and 1000 UG Shillings back is not an option. Your other option is to walk over 5 kilometers to the nearest trading center where there might be a roadside clinic. The problem is even if the villagers can get to the clinic, they cannot afford the treatment. The other option is to get into Jinja to the government hospital. It takes us about 45 minutes to an hour to get there by vehicle. At the hospital the wait time is astronomical (our ER wait time is nothing compared to the wait times I have seen). Even then the hospital may be out of the supplies or medicine that is needed and the person will be expected to buy the materials and bring them to the hospital.
One of the huge problems we have encountered is medication. Medication is easily obtainable here if you have money. No prescription needed, if you have money you can go to the pharmacy and get what you need. If someone test positive for malaria they may not have enough money left to buy the proper medication for treatment of malaria. They do one of two things, they buy half a dose of medication or they buy pain killer because that is all they can afford. This week in the village a mother brought me her child
who was very lethargic and did not look well. She told me she had started him on malaria medication because he had "the malaria." I was very excited she had started treatment and asked when he tested positive and how long he had been on the medication. She told me she had not been to the clinic because there was no money, but she had given him one tablet for the malaria. For children who test positive for malaria, they should be on a 7 day course of medication taken three times a week. This poor mother had one pill and had given it to him in hopes of curing his malaria. As a parent I cannot imagine having a sick child and not having the resources to take care of their illness. It breaks my heart on a weekly basis to see people struggling to take care of their kids with so little. I am thankful for the mothers and grandmothers we encounter who are doing the very best to provide and care for their children.
One of the drawbacks of medication being so readily available is that it can be misused and misunderstood. As I was packing up to leave the village I encountered a woman who was having pain in her tubes. She told me if I could give her some amoxicillin tablets that would fix the problem. I tried to explain that amoxicillin was a penicillin based, broad spectrum antibiotic (yes I know, that was the teacher in me kicking in) and that it was not a pain killer. She told me she also had back pain when she worked for long periods of time in the garden and that amoxicillin generally helped. She was disappointed that I did not have tablets for her and she left upset with me. I also encountered a man who told us on one of our previous trips that he had "too much malaria" and he needed treatment. When asked what signs and symptoms he had he just began to laugh and joke around. This week the same man asked me what tablets I had for him today. Same answer as last time, I don't have tablets for you. When questioned about his ailments this week he had to think for awhile and then stated he was somehow tired and needed tablets.
This is just a couple examples of the uphill battles we face in the village. Although we have worked very hard to establish relationship with the villagers, there are still a few who think that we are there to "give" things out. That is not the case, we are focused on malaria prevention and education. Although it is an uphill battle, it is one that needs to be fought.
My prayer is that through education and empowerment we can shift the thinking process and help those who are struggling to care for their children when they are sick. Every time we are in the village I emphasize to them that God is the Great Healer and the Great Physician. True healing comes through a faith in Christ Jesus.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord Jeremiah 30:17