I am updating you from Kampala, Uganda where I have been researching cancer for the past 5 weeks. I was sponsored by my medical school to work on a research project at a hospital here, and in my free time I am shadowing in a pediatric acute care unit. Two days into my shadowing experience, I lost count of the cases of malaria I had seen somewhere around 40. That is what one doctor in one hospital sees in Uganda in 2 days. 37 days into my shadowing experience, I cannot tell you how many cases of malaria have come through our doors, but I can tell you that malaria has been the most prevalent diagnosis in our acute care unit since I have arrived.
A typical malaria case is similar to that of baby Joseph. He came to us today on his first birthday after two weeks of vomiting, high fevers and beginning today convulsions. He tested positive for malaria, not such a fun birthday present. The vomiting left him severely malnourished…his belly was distended, and his ribs protruded from his skin. He was severely dehydrated, so two doctors and three nurses struggled to insert an IV into his tiny arms, feet, or head until a fourth nurse succeeded. He was so listless, that his cries were barely audible. His mother looked very distraught. She spoke no English, so I tried to talk to her in Luganda (the language here).
“Oli Otya, Nyabo?” (How are you?), but the mother didn’t answer. She tried to muffle her sobbing.
According to the World Health Organization, 39,000 people get malaria in Uganda every day which means that there are 39,000 people with the same story as baby Joseph right now and 39,000 more will wake up to the same story tomorrow. Today, 274 people died of malaria in Uganda, including a child in our ward suffering from perhaps the worst complication of malaria, cerebral malaria.
I arrived to the ward after the doctor had already begun examining the patient. A six year old girl, Sarah, lay moaning on the exam table, her arms clenched, eyes wide open, her large pupils stared at nothing. What grade was she in? “P3,” (third grade) her father answered. How long ago? “Three weeks.” It was hard to imagine three weeks ago, this child had been normal. Today, she didn’t understand our talking to her, didn’t look at anyone, and she didn’t even respond to pain. Three weeks ago she was ok? “Yes, she was a little scared of animals, but she was okay.”
“Her arms are clenched like that because of lesions in her brain.” The doctor told me. They have already given her antimalarials at another hospital, so there is nothing that we can do but try to relieve her pain…
Since I have arrived in Uganda, 1,433,000 people have gotten sick with malaria and 10,138 people have died of the disease. That’s after only 37 days. One way to help with this problem is to prevent malaria infection in the first place.
Last Friday, I rode two hours to a lush, green, and hilly area of Uganda called Hoima. I helped our Ugandan volunteers deliver 1000 mosquito nets to grade school children at the Hoima Cathedral school. The school has about 1000 children including many children with special needs—the deaf, blind, and mentally impaired. I had the opportunity to speak with the children to ask them if they had had malaria, if they had missed school because of malaria. They had. If they owned a mosquito net…no one did, but last Friday that changed. We won’t be treating those children on our wards. Instead, they can teach others about malaria nets and they can stay in school so that when they are adults they can afford to buy their children mosquito nets and help break the cycle of poverty and illness…
We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for your support.