I have been in Uganda for about a month now and I have had so many different experiences. We are experiencing total immersion here in Mbale. Two of my colleagues and I share a two bedroom small home. There is no refrigerator, water rationing is in place (water typically goes off at 6pm and comes back on at 5am), and the shower is not fully functioning.
We began our stay in Uganda in the capital city of Kampala. It is completely different from Mbale. Kampala is far more industrialized and the amenities are fairly similar to the states. Coming to Mbale (a more rural district in Eastern Uganda) was a complete change from what we had experienced in Kampala so we have had to adjust. I really appreciate the experience in Mbale because it definitely forces you to grow and puts a lot into perspective. A lot of resources are easily accessible in the States and you really start to appreciate that. One thing that has remained consistent is the people. Everyone we’ve interacted with has been so nice! The Ugandan culture is really a breath of fresh air and people are really willing to go the extra mile if you ask them to. A photo of our house in Mbale is on the right.
As a public health officer in Mbale district my work days are extremely busy, but it is always worth it! Just as an example, on my first day on the ground we were immediately sent to a rotavirus vaccine training for district health workers. The vaccine is being rolled out for the first time in Uganda and I was lucky enough to arrive just in time to be involved! The training was also a community dialogue and an opportunity for health workers to raise questions and voice concerns; it was really interesting to see this because its not really how things are done back in the states. We also learned that there is cholera and measles outbreak in the district when we arrived.
We have had the very rare opportunity to be hands on and involved in the cholera outbreak investigation. We got the chance to visit the Cholera Treatment Center (CTC) and conduct case reports with some supervision. The really exciting thing is that they throw us right into the thick of things so we are forced to learn very quickly. After two days of case reporting we got the chance to go to the field and do some contact tracing. We visited the places that cholera patients said they got their water, ate, and gathered in the last seven days. This allowed me to see a lot of Mbale since we did a lot of traveling. We also assessed the food and water sources.
The biggest lesson I learned conducting this investigation is how under-resourced the district is.
Most people working on the investigation are not being immediately compensated and that showed me just how committed health workers are to their communities. Additionally, we didn’t have all the resources necessary to test the water and this made the investigation very difficult. So far, three water sources have been closed and as I’m writing this, no new cholera patients have been reported which is a win considering the lacking resources. The work we are doing is really rewarding and many of these opportunities would not be available for students in the states.