Dear Emirates Airline Foundation,
We thank you for your generous support in providing us with the opportunity to deliver medical care to children in Uganda through the non-profit organization, Outreach To Africa (OTA). From May to June 2012, we traveled with OTA to Western Uganda to provide health services for children in the region. During the visit we traveled to multiple sites, including the Paul Devlin Academy in Fort Portal, the OTA medical clinics in Fort Portal and Rwebisengo, and an orphanage in Fort Portal called the Tooro Babies Home.
L to R: Melissa Reilly, RN; Megha Shah, MD; Brian Kim, MD; and Christopher Chyu, MD.
Our medical team consisted of three pediatric resident physicians from UCLA and two intensive care nurses. Our goals were to provide basic health screening and treatment for the children at the Paul Devlin Academy and the Tooro Babies Home, in addition to treating patients at the OTA medical clinics in Fort Portal and Rwebisengo for more urgent health concerns.
We were able to bring a large quantity of medical supplies along with us, including a wide variety of medications, resuscitation equipment for newborn babies, medical instruments, and other essentials such as gloves and sterile dressings.
Medical supplies for the mission.
After our Emirates flights to Entebbe, and the long drive to the town of Fort Portal, we met with Dr. Henry who is in charge of one of the two Outreach to Africa Clinics in the area. He took us to the local pharmacy where we were able to purchase medications to use for the children and clinics. Mothers of some of the children also came in to be seen. Each child was treated and given medication to last them the entire length of treatment. This of course was all free of charge.
Paul Devlin Academy:
We started with Paul Devlin Academy which functions as a nursery, primary school and orphanage. One hundred of the 270 children were new enrollees. The children were between the ages of 4 years and 15 years. However for some, it was the first time they had ever been seen by a physician. We screened all new students for HIV, provided testing for malaria when appropriate, and treated numerous skin and scalp infections, which were very prevalent among the young population.
Children at Paul Devlin Academy are seen by the visiting team – for some, it was the first time they had ever been seen by a physician.
Each day we identified a group of children requiring more extensive medical investigation, and brought them to the Fort Portal OTA clinic for necessary follow-up care. We also screened the children for dental cavities and other oral diseases, and established a system for medical record keeping in the form of individualized notebooks to promote continuity of medical care.
At the end of our days of work at the orphanage, we put on a farewell lunch. The lunch we bought consisted of rice with meat and chocolate milk, which was an extraordinary treat. The children were so grateful and ate two and three bowls of food. The milk was the highlight – they loved it so much that some children were ripping the chocolate milk cartons open to lick the inside! The children sang songs for us and the day couldn't have been better.
Tooro Babies Home:
We visited another orphanage in Fort Portal called the Tooro Babies Home, which approximately 45 children between the ages of 2 months to 12 years call home. We evaluated children who were identified by the caretakers as having specific medical needs or concerns. This included a subgroup of children who were significantly disabled.
One of the girls at the orphanage suffered from epilepsy and had significant developmental delay, requiring the use of a wheelchair. She also had feeding difficulties as a result of her condition. She would have convulsions that would last for up to six hours, despite being on medication to treat her seizures. We were able to provide important information to her caretaker about how to care for the girl when she was having her seizures, as well as information to improve the feeding and delivery of both food and medication. Though resources were limited for many of these children, we were encouraged by the amount of support and attention they received from their caretakers.
All the children at this home were abandoned by their mothers. Some were thrown in pit latrines but survived. Others were dropped off at police stations or left at church door steps, others were found in trash cans. Some of them are HIV positive and on treatment.
OTA Medical Centre - Rwebisengo:
At the OTA clinics in Fort Portal and Rwebisengo, we saw a number of paediatric patients presenting with more urgent health concerns. We spent a significant amount of time in Rwebisengo, a small town in Western Uganda near the Semliki River bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the rainy season, the surrounding marshes act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, resulting in high rates of malarial infection. Access to health services in the region is limited, and many of the children were being evaluated by a physician for the first time. Announcements of our arrival were made to the surrounding area prior to our visit with the aim of maximising our impact. In fact, health care access in the region is so limited that many adults came seeking medical attention despite knowing that our team had come to specifically evaluate children.
Patients of all ages line up to be seen by the team.
We saw one baby who drew our immediate concern, a one month girl old with severe malnutrition and a diffuse infection that had developed into a pustule rash. Infections in newborns tend to spread very quickly, and coupled with malnutrition, it would have been difficult for her to fight off the infection without the support of intravenous antibiotics. In addition, children with systemic infections can succumb to the disease much more quickly than adults.
With these concerns in mind, we drove her to the nearest regional hospital one and a half hours away, and ensured that she was admitted with an appropriate regimen of antibiotics and supplemental feeds. She was treated and later discharged.
During our trip, numerous children with a wide variety of conditions were treated. We have made a lasting impact on these patients. We are grateful for the support provided by Outreach to Africa and the Emirates Airline Foundation, and hope these organizations can see just how important their support is in providing a positive effect for the children in this region.
Brian Kim, MD (Paediatrician, California, USA)
Megha Shah, MD (Paediatrician, California, USA)
Christopher Chyu, MD (Paediatrician, California, USA)
Melissa Reilly, RN (Nurse, California, USA)
Vicky Williams, RN (Nurse, Arizona, USA)
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