Thursday, October 22, 2015

Coming together to stop fistula

Can you imagine 80 visits to Africa in less than 50 years? At Uganda Village Project, we have knowledgeable staff with years of public health and development experience. None of us, however, come close to 46 years of work in Uganda. That honor goes to Dr. Brian Hancock, a talented surgeon
who has been volunteering his time in Uganda helping fistula patients during 50 visits to Uganda (80 total to Africa!) over 46 years.

Not long ago, we were at Kamuli Mission Hospital to meet with everyone involved in the most recent fistula camp. We were pleased to spend time with Dr. Hancock, who graciously invited us to sit down for a cup of tea and talk more about the women who come for surgeries and how things have changed over four decades of fistula treatment. He can remember tiny details of the majority of his patients, and he talks about each one with a genuine appreciation and a sparkle in his eye. During other visits to fistula camps, I’ve been struck by the resiliency and strength of the women. This time, during our conversation with Dr. Hancock I was reminded how important it is to work together to achieve change for women with fistula. It really does take a village, and in this case, the village comes from England, Scotland, Norway, the US, and across eastern Uganda.

UVP staff talk with Dr. Hancock while nurses care for patients in the background
Loy, UVP’s Fistula Coordinator, was monitoring patients who had just come out of surgery. Nurses from Scotland were working with nurses from Uganda who had recently been trained in fistula care at another Ugandan hospital. Everyone was really impressed by their skills and excited for the potential of them taking on more duties in the future. There were doctors from the UK being assisted by Ugandan nurses in the surgical theater. When we talked with Dr. Hancock, he said it used to be just him and one nurse attending to fistula patients. Now, there are multiple people from multiple countries all dedicated to healing women.

As we sat with a Scottish nurse waiting to support the next surgery, she acknowledged that it takes a lot of energy to work at the camps, often 12 or more hours a day, in order to meet the demand for surgery. All the international doctors and nurses use their personal vacation days to come here. She deflected our appreciation, though, with a reminder that none of their work would be possible without efforts to identify women suffering from fistula and bring them for the surgery in the first place. It’s not only doctors and nurses from multiple countries who make this happen, it takes Fistula Ambassadors who share their stories with women in their communities to encourage them to come for surgery. It takes UVP staff who support the Ambassadors, organize camps, and make sure the women heal and return home safely. It takes the Fistula Foundation, who provides funding for many of these programs, and it takes donors from around the world who help us support women before and after surgery.

I'm still impressed by the resiliency of the women who come for surgery. They're the entire reason we all do this. But watching this global village come together to help the women was just as inspiring.

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