By Frederick Womakuyu
IT is mid-morning and at the Uganda Australia Christian Outreach (UACO) clinic in Najjanankumbi on Busabala Road, parents are seated under a shed waiting to have their babies immunised. Their joy is evident in the appreciative glances they cast towards the nurse tending to the babies.
In one of the rooms, several women blend their banter with hums of popular Christian songs as they wait for their turn.
In the physiotherapy centre is four-year-old Bosco Musoke. He was wrestling with his brother at home when he tumbled to the floor and fractured his leg. His father, Joseph Musoke, carried him for about two kilometres to the new clinic.
â€œBefore this clinic was set up, I would have to treat him at home with warm water and a tree bark tied to his leg for two weeks,â€ Musoke says.
The UACO clinic provides the slum dwellers with essential health services at no charge.
Prior to the opening in 2001, people had to seek treatment from traditional healers or walk to an expensive hospital even when they could hardly afford the bills.
The clinic received a sh91m grant from the government of Australia.
Rose Mugonda, a mother of four from Mpigi, brought her 10-month-old baby Alex Nakwaki to the clinic for malaria treatment. â€œBefore this clinic was set up, I lost a baby to malaria. I took her to a traditional healer, but he failed to treat her.
Dr. Edward Ssembatya, the co-founder of the outreach programme, said more than 20,000 people have sought free treatment at the clinic. â€œMost patients complain of malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia, fractures, respiratory infections and advanced mental illnesses. The pharmacy is stocked with essential medicines and vaccines.
In addition to treating illnesses, the clinic offers immunisation services and health education to the community.â€
Judy Steel, the co-founder of the home and facilitator of the grant, says the centre targets poor people, widows, orphans and the unemployed.
â€œThe people were so poor that they could not afford medical services. Many were dying and this touched me. This is when I met Dr. Ssembatya, who had started working with widows and orphans for free,â€ Steel says. â€œI went back to Australia and talked to some Christians who loved the idea and offered to raise money for a clinic. In 2001, medical equipment worth sh500m donated by the people of Australia was shipped into the country to start up the clinic.â€
The clinic offers free primary health care, a walking clinic, education and training. Other services are functional adult literacy classes, youth services and a small loan scheme.
â€œThe primary health care includes free medicine and also focuses on immunisation for babies and education for their mothers,â€ said Steel.
There is also a walking clinic in Najjanankumbi and surrounding areas, where the disabled and elderly are visited by a team of care-givers.
â€œThe care-givers include social workers, nurses, counsellors and volunteers. There are also volunteers from Australia,â€ added Ssembatya.
Among the beneficiaries of the walking clinic is nine-year-old Peter Sendagire. Sendagire suffered from hydrocephalus, which is an accumulation of fluid in the head. Sendagire could not walk and only crawled.
â€œBut two years after he had undergone treatment, his head went back to the normal size. Through the centreâ€™s rehabilitation programme, he was able to walk,â€ says Dr. Herbert Makabayi, a physiotherapist.
â€œWe continue treating him at the centre and giving him food.â€
Another person grateful for the work of the clinic is Godfrey Nviiri. Nviiriâ€™s spinal cord broke in a road accident in which he almost died. â€œNviiri was treated at the clinic and given a wheel-chair,â€ said Makabayi.
Through the small loan scheme run by the centre for the poor, Nviiri was given sh100,000 to start a small business. â€œI started a charcoal business and I earn sh5,000 a day as profit. This centre has given me life and made me prove that disabled people can do something for a living.â€
In many communities in Uganda, medical care is beyond most peopleâ€™s reach, says Dr. Ssembatya.
â€œThis is because many people are poor and have no means of survival to pay for it. It is a sad story for those living in slums around Kampala,â€ he adds.
â€œBusabala is a slum area with many poor people. With a population of almost 280,000, residents live in makeshift shelters with poor ventilation. They depend on less than a dollar a day per family and the price of medical services is beyond their reach.
â€œOn average, only one in a hundred residents can afford malaria drugs. A dose of malaria drugs costs sh15,000. Many of the slum dwellers suffer from malaria and most of them die from it due to poverty,â€ said Dr. Makabayi.
â€œWorse still, many of the residents cannot afford mosquito nets because their meagre resources are spent on food,â€ he adds. â€œWe have given out 600 mosquito nets and we believe it will help fight malaria in the area.â€
The centre also provides education and training aimed at all areas within their reach on a regular basis.
Seminars and training are given and a variety of topics are discussed including family planning, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Other issues discussed are income generating activities and business management. â€œWe have been able to increase the number of literacy classes and there is a waiting list of people wanting to learn,â€ said Persis Kanabi, a social worker and manager at the clinic.
This year, the clinicâ€™s target is to immunise 5,000 babies under the age of five within Busabala and neighbouring areas.
The outreach programme is also working to improve water, health care, education and nutrition in the area.
â€œWorking together to solve health problems in communities can pave way for a healthy nation,â€ says Kanabi.