My first week at volunteering at UKUN project, I gained an insight what it is all about and the challenges that lie ahead of me. (March 2013)
UKUN (Uhakika Kituo cha Ushauri Nasaha) is a non-governmental, non-political & non-profit organization based in Bagamoyo district in the coastal region of Tanzania. The mission of UKUN is to contribute to the primary prevention of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Bagamoyo town; to support palliative care services for people living with HIV/AIDS and to improve the quality of life for the district’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC)’ (UKUN Website 2013).
There are 97 villages around Bagamoyo district that UKUN has been concentrating its projects on. I was told that one of the big challenges to UKUN is how to access them all cost efficiently.
Having visited Bagamoyo town many times before I can to know many people who have volunteered at UKUN and helped with their field work. Debbie Fair Ellis, and Tarek El Shayal (of the East Africa Aid Foundation) are couple out of many that have helped prepare me for my volunteering task. I am a nurse from my profession and want to be part of the Home- Based Care programme to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. I also hope to educate and raise awareness to the people in Bagamoyo about HIV, TB and malaria prevention.
Prior to my travels I started a fundraising campaign where I collected sponsor money from UK and Finland and will donate $500 in total to UKUN. This money will be used to help this project from its financial crisis and anything that is needed for the patients.
UKUN will be changing its name to People’s Health Initiatives (PHI) because it is helping in other areas now including prevention of Malaria and other diseases. In the past UKUN had plenty of donors and was running various projects. Also Cross Cultural Solutions (volunteer organisation) was sending volunteers regularly to work in UKUN. Now almost all donors have gone, having moved into other things, and there has been a rapid decrease in available finance. Now there are no projects running, all paid staff have left and Cross Cultural Solutions are having a ‘dry season’ with no available volunteers. As a consequence of that they have stopped their Bagamoyo programme completely. Not having enough volunteers does not help any of the projects in the community.
That is not all; one of UKUN’s key volunteers sadly died. He was a local man who was mainly doing home care for the severely ill HIV patients. He was also running a football club for children, was a translator for foreign volunteers and was involved in local politics. He was very much loved and respected and Charles is grieving for him too.
This first week was spent with Charles around orientating me to UKUN and writing a grant proposal.. He told me about the past, current and future possibilities for UKUN. We also visited Bagamoyo District Hospital, where he introduced me to all ‘important’ staff.
UKUN clinic does rapid HIV testing with counselling that is free to anyone. Charles does this. There is only Charles there at the moment (and me) and Samira comes to clean in the mornings and deals also with small errands. We have to report monthly to Bagamoyo Hospital HIV centre (CTC) of how many people were tested (age, gender, HIV status) and how many were positive. Last month (Feb 2013) eighty people came to the UKUN clinic for the test and 4 of those were found HIV positive. If the person has a positive result they will be referred to CTC Bagamoyo Hospital to take a sample of blood and send it to the lab for kidney and liver function and CD4 count. That result will determine whether the patient will start ARVs (Antiretroviral Therapy). The recommendation is to start treatment if person’s CD4 is below the 350 count.
If it has been decided that the patient will go on ARV therapy he needs to arrive with a supporter to pick up his medication from the CTC. A supporter is usually any family member or otherwise close person to the patient. The supporter will be helping the patient with adherence to the therapy e.g. by giving reminders. Adherence to ARV therapy is vital for it to work and no adherence can have worse consequences than not taking the therapy at all. Patients have monthly appointment to be seen in CTC by a Doctor.
We finished writing a proposal for the grant for ‘Positive Action for Children Fund’, which has a deadline next week Tuesday. I was actually learning to write one as this was my first one ever but we managed to send it off on time. So my days were mainly spent in the office working 10-12 hour days!
Next week I will visit the home care clients as they are the main work I planned to come here to do!
I am looking forward to be working with UKUN in the upcoming weeks.
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http://www.eastafricaaid.com http://amap.eastafricaaidproject.org http://hvu.eastafricaaidproject.org http://ukun.eastafricaaidproject.org