Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Team Effort for a New Life Free from Fistula

Written by: Leslie Stroud-Romero, UVP Executive Director

The first fistula camp of 2014 started in mid-January. I got the chance to visit Kamuli Mission Hospital and meet some of the women who were there for surgery, as well as one of the surgeons from the UK Childbirth Injuries Fund. It was a long and tiring trip to get to the hospital. Uganda Village Project (UVP) identifies women from all over Uganda’s eastern region to take for surgeries, and without these efforts, the women would never be able to make it to the hospital. 

I asked Loy, UVP’s fistula coordinator, how long most of the women who were there had been suffering with fistula before coming for surgery. “Some just a short time, but more often 20, 30, or more years,” she said, confirming what I’d suspected when visiting the women, many of whom looked middle-aged. I followed up by asking whether they hadn’t come for surgery earlier because they didn’t know it’s curable. “Sometimes,” said Loy, “but most don’t come because they don’t have the funds for transport.” 

There are very few facilities capable of handling fistula surgeries, and so women must travel several hours to be helped. They live each day leaking urine or feces because they lack the small amount that it would take to get them to the hospital, and can’t afford to bring food or necessities with them to the hospital. That’s where UVP and the UK Childbirth Injuries Fund step in. We identify women in very rural villages who suffer with fistula, cover their transport for the long, dusty ride to the hospital, and then provide a food allowance while they are there. Loy looks after them—her caring nature was evident in the way she spoke with the women and they came to her with problems—and then volunteer surgeons from the UK work in partnership with Ugandan staff to heal women through surgery. Each surgery takes just an hour or two: such a short time after years of dealing with the results of a fistula. 

The surgeon I met, Dr. Glyn Constantine, was a friendly guy who had just a short time to talk between patients. Without his support, and that of his colleagues, we wouldn’t be able to provide these surgeries to women. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and during my visit to the hospital I saw that it takes a community to support a woman in need. From the Fistula Foundation that has helped us extend our outreach efforts, to our donors who provide the much-needed funds to transport the patients, our staff who care so deeply about these women, the Ugandan hospital staff at Kamuli who assist in surgery and healing, and the dedicated UK doctors who use their skills to heal—they all came together this month to help 17 women head home in two weeks with the opportunity to start a new life free from fistula. 

Edited by: Tiffany Hsieh

Monday, January 27, 2014

Behind the scenes: Community Sanitation Meeting

Written by: Leslie Stroud-Romero, UVP Executive Director
Edited by: Tiffany Hsieh

When we use the toilet, we flush away all traces of our waste. In many of our Healthy Villages, a lack of latrines means that villagers are confronted daily with evidence of waste. Uganda Village Project’s (UVP) sanitation campaigns highlight the problem of “open defecation” and other unhygienic practices, and then offer solutions to building a healthier community. I was at a recent community meeting to introduce a sanitation campaign for one of our 2013 Healthy Villages. Kasambika 1 is very rural. The road to get there went from paved, to dirt, to a skinny dirt road, to really more of a footpath by the time we reached the meeting site.

UVP staff members traveled there to talk about the sanitation campaign. Before this meeting, UVP had already worked with the Village Health Team members to ensure that their households had proper sanitation facilities in place, which include a latrine with door, a bathing room, a plate stand to hygienically dry dishes in the sun, a trash pit, and a “tippy tap”—or hand washing station. The Village Health Team members will now be responsible for encouraging their neighbors to improve their sanitation practices and facilities, but we wanted to gather everyone for a community meeting first. UVP’s staff member Obbo Titus engaged the participants and, although I understood very little of what was said, it was clear that although they were talking about diarrhea, cleanliness, and piles of waste, the women and men had a great time as they laughed at jokes and nodded in understanding. Titus also shared the results of the baseline sanitation survey that our 2013 summer interns conducted to show them the progress they made from six months ago. 

Titus at the sanitation meeting

During the next three months, Village Health Teams will sell subsidized materials so that their neighbors can build tippy taps. They will consult about proper latrine construction, and lend a hand when cleaning up compounds. The purpose of the UVP sanitation campaigns is to educate or remind villagers about proper hygiene and sanitation, such as why using a latrine is important and how washing hands prevents disease. We do this by helping community members see the problem and then encouraging them to work together for the goal of a healthier community. No one wants to be the only person on the road without a latrine, and people want their compounds to look nice with a functioning tippy tap on site.

Our 2014 summer interns will evaluate the success of the project by identifying the improved sanitation facilities at each household, but if the meeting last week was any indication, it seems that Kasambika 1 is well on its way to making community-wide healthy changes.