(Internet is sketchy here – I meant to post this yesterday…more to come)
We spent our first day at Mulago Hospital here in Kampala. A bustling, sprawling complex with several hundred beds, and even more patients. 30,000 babies are born here every year – that’s about 3 every hour. In 1962, Uganda gained its independence from Britain with a population of seven million; today it stands at 28 million. This place is a teeming mass of humanity.
Kampala itself is made up of seven luscious hills. It is a stunning city with many colonial remnants; the guesthouse at Makerere University where we are staying is one of them. While sparse in modern terms, its architecture and beautiful vista overlooking the campus harks back to the days when the British had the run of the place.
Officially the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is, despite a long and terrible war, a relatively stable state in 2011. A tropical and fertile land, its agriculture has saved it many times throughout history and in a credit to the government, they put significant resources into education – every child receives free education through high-school; unheard of in most African countries. Despite that however, its challenges are immense. Malaria, HIV, and maternal mortality rates are some of the highest in the world here.
Our work at Mulago is just one of three here in Uganda but I have a hard time imagining the other two could be any more complex. The hospital is designed to be what we would call a specialty referral hospital where only the most complex cases are handled. In reality, the referral system here is in taters so most patients in the capital by-pass the local clinics and head straight to the large hospital. The result is overwhelming. Too many patients, not enough resources and a clinical staff struggling to keep up.
In an attempt to truly assess the situation, we spent time with the hospital’s candid CEO. Many things don’t work here, but please don’t give up on us, he said. He told the story of the two men walking along the beach when they come upon a beached fish flapping in the sun, struggling to stay alive. The first man picks up the fish, and tosses it back into the sea. The second man chortles, “why bother, there are so many other fish in the sea, and the sea is so big anyway?” The first man agrees, but says “for that one fish though, my actions mean everything.” We’ve all heard this story in different forms, but coming from this man, urging us to keep up our work, it meant so much more than it ever had before.
Everything you do is a contribution, he said. Words to live by perhaps…