Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part V

I’ve been spending this weekend back home in London. Unfortunately, it didn’t start off quite so smoothly…

I developed a bout of conjunctivitis towards the end of the week, and was slowly recovering from that. It was also on the Friday when I headed to London, that I heard about the terrorist incident at Parsons Green earlier that morning. People were naturally more cautious about their travels and that included me. What made things more difficult, was telling my family that I was going to the Uganda-UK convention in central London the next day. They were NOT happy.

While I was brainstorming on the train, and trying to think of what I would like to achieve from the convention, I received a certain-toned phone call from the family, asking about the sort of convention I was attending.

Then that classic saying came along:

“We’ll talk about this when you get home”.

No, not an unfamiliar saying. But if anything, it probably fired up my drive more so. Listening to some of my favourite movie themes (yes, this includes How To Train Your Dragon), I was even more focused in my planning for the convention!

I tried to think why it is that parents don’t want us to do certain things. Do they think differently from us? Do they feel like they are losing us? Are they worried that we could fail? Maybe all those things. Or maybe, we’re supposed to be “settling”.

I don’t think such a thing as “settling” exists. To settle and accept things as they are, almost means giving up on life. I actually think that’s somewhat disrespectful to life itself. To strive, however and whatever you decide to pursue, means to live life to the fullest. If you choose to be of service to others, why shouldn’t you? Anything which increases your options is a good decision. If you do the same actions, you’ll get that same results. If you do different actions, you’ll have a different life.

So I went.

After an early morning wake up (6.45am on a Saturday morning is early for me!), I got ready and headed out. The convention itself was quite easy to get to, only a few stops on the underground and just a couple on the railway. Once I got there I signed in, was given my pass and waited around…unfortunately for a long time! It turned out that not only I had gotten there ridiculously early (I thought 9am was quite decent!), but they were running very late. The hall where the convention was being held at was divided into two parts. The front consisted of the stage, the tables at the front and the stand alone seats at the back. Behind were all the exhibition stands. The people who attended were spread across the two parts, though the exhibition area was naturally much louder! Before you realise people approach you, and you can’t help but network as well-exchanging contact details and dishing out calling cards (I was probably one of the few who DIDN’T have one, I don’t think your NHS smart card quite qualifies!).

Sneaky photo before the crowds came

Before the rest of the people arrived 

The chairman opened up the convention with a saying I thought was clever, in the context of us being allowed to use our phones to take pictures!

“Life worth living is one worth recording”.

The convention commenced with the singing of the Ugandan National Anthem. This was soon followed by various speeches given by many distinguished invited guests-such as the Ugandan High commissioner to the UK, and the Vice President of Uganda, Edward Ssekandi.

Vice President of Uganda Edward Ssekandi giving his speech 

One of the presentations which interested me more so, was delivered to us by Dr Ian Clarke-a physician, philanthropist, entrepreneur and the chairman of the International Medical Group. I found his work inspiring, particularly how he used agriculture from his roots to keep his medical work sustainable. I adored his motto:

“Sustainable Development with Social Impact”

I was very fortunate to have a face to face meeting with him, which was just as well as I missed a part of his presentation (because it was during his presentation that we had to register to meet with a specific speaker…funny that!).

The meeting itself was a delight! I had my notebook with my questions written and my pen at the ready, to write haste his answers and advice. However I soon as I sat down, I didn’t even look at my notebook properly. It didn’t seem all that appropriate. I asked just one question, and the rest of the time we just chatted away, completely informal and relaxed. He was taken aback that I was a doctor, as I think he thought like many others, I was seeking for an investment! It was almost like we were uni friends, getting to know each other and comparing notes about medicine and life. I felt absolutely honoured that we spent the length of time we had talking. To me he was like a celebrity, and it was probably my highlight of the convention!

After leaving the meeting room, I walked through a very crowded hallway where out of nowhere, a calling card flung across, hit my face by accident and landed on the floor. I picked it up and didn’t think much of it when a gentleman said:

“I’m really sorry, did that hit your eye?!”

“No no it didn’t, not to worry”

“Oh then you can have it!”

Suddenly there was a loud uproar of laughter and I couldn’t help but join in. But it wasn’t until I left the hallway, that I realised who the card belonged to-the Ugandan High Commissioner!

After a cup of tea and a croissant for lunch (the queue for lunch was incredibly long and I didn’t have the stomach to wait), I managed to speak with some other people in the crowds, before taking my seat at the table. The lecture after lunch was provided by a Ugandan Physician, which captivated me yet again. She first talked about the Diaspora in Uganda. Ignorant as I am at things, I had to look this up. She then spoke about how the healthcare system there is “corrupt and broken down”, and that a lot of work still needed doing. This was followed with a story, one which almost brought me to tears…

A senior physician at her hospital became unwell and needed a ventilator. Unfortunately the ventilator broke down and he was deteriorating. “Hospital X” where he was staying would not let him go to “Hospital Y” to receive treatment via their working ventilator, until he and his family paid the fees. This was in the hundred thousand region and despite appealing to the administration, they would not let him go. “The fees were coming in but his health was getting worse”.

Once the payment was made to Hospital X, Hospital Y refused to take him in. This was because he now needed to pay for the ambulance, and this was even more expensive (in the millions region). SOMEHOW they managed to get this payment sorted and thankfully, he was transferred across. Maybe it was the way she told us this story (which is far better than how I am saying it here), but this sorry horrified me and I was heartbroken.

After a couple more speeches I decided to call it a day. I had taken more than enough knowledge and insight than I could have hoped for and decided to head back, to spend the rest of the day with the family.

My trinkets from the day 🙂 You could only speak with the guest speakers if you applied for a VIP pass-so worth it! 

Attending this convention only reinforced what I want to do with my life. There are many messages which I took home with me, but one of my favourites still is this one, which was mentioned by the Ugandan physician. It couldn’t be put more simply:

“It was just something different and that’s what I chose to do”

Advertisements

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part IV

After a fun couple of days of vegetarian home cooking (burgers and lasagne!), I had a few days off work and so set off to London. I was a little lazy at home but at the same time, hung out in the high street and enjoyed the summer sales!

IMG_5139

The view from the top floor of the bus, the best seat in my opinion!

IMG_5148

My sales items, totaling £62.75

It was also a good opportunity to meet up with a family friend, one who I’ve known for almost 25 years.

It was on the day that I met up with her, that I had an appointment with the dental hygienist in the morning. Just a typical appointment which I had booked the day before…or was it?

Everything was going pretty normal. My teeth were being inspected and the dental hygienist was doing a ‘deep clean’ on them, when his phone rang and he answered accordingly.

‘Oh I’m very sorry but I had to take the phone call’

‘That’s ok’ I replied.

‘Yeah it’s from Uganda’

‘Oh really?’

It was at this point that my voice changed to one of excitement. Of course I let him finish off the session, and then we talked about all-things-Uganda. We spoke about my trip there last year, his origins there and what we were both hoping to do. I told him about what I was setting up and interestingly, he told me about his plans to improve the dental hygiene there. We exchanged contact details and I left soon after. The very next day, I received an email from him.

He alerted me of the Uganda-UK Investment Convention which is scheduled for this year. I don’t know if I would have even be aware of it, if it wasn’t for the dental hygienist! Did I sign up for it? Well of course I did. I considered it a sign that he was there! Interestingly, I was contacted by two key organisations soon after-The Ministry of Health in Uganda that day, and the RCOG the next day.

So yes, things are still going. My next steps are:

  • Look into fundraising and obtaining the medical equipment.
  • Once this is done, we can set up the services for the cervical cancer screening programme and look into keeping it sustainable.
  • Make plans to go to Uganda towards the beginning of next year.

I wanted to end this post by sharing a Youtube link, because of the impact it has on me every time I watch it. I find it very inspirational, focusing the importance of creating change and making a difference in people’s lives. This is what I want to do.

Gary Vaynerchuk in Ghana, a country I have been to previously and love dearly. The ending of this vlog almost always gets to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part III & Other Musings

It feels like the last couple of weeks have been a little ‘strange’ to me, since coming back to Leeds. There have been days where I was so driven to do things, but there have also been days where I haven’t been quite as motivated. For a while, it felt like time was going so slowly and I was feeling rather blah about things…and it’s only been two weeks!

The first weekend I spent since coming back to Leeds may have been a productive one. This is despite having many movies running on at home, probably too many to count. I was able to sit down and literally brain storm ideas on the whiteboard, for the cervical cancer screening programme I am organising in Bwindi-the objectives, statistics, equipment, screening and treatment options, current infrastructure, collaborators, funding organisations, questions to the hospital, the list is endless.

Despite taking a solid weekend, it felt like for the first time, I was able to create a vision in my head of what the programme should encompass. I have already sourced the equipment in Uganda instead of in the UK as I originally planned, and am looking into funding options for these. I have also been in touch with the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Manchester University and important charities who have expertise in this field of medicine. I’ll admit some responses have been slower or less helpful than others, but I do have some direction of focus. If there’s anything that I’ve learnt, it’s that you should keep going until they tell you no.  I’ll give you an example…

In my previous blog post on the expedition, I mentioned that I was in contact with a gynaecology registrar at the hospital. Unfortunately responses from him thinned out, to the point that I directly made contact with the Royal College itself for advice and about a potential staff training course for the healthcare workers. It was useful to know that this is a pilot, in which they require more information from the hospital. At least I knew this now and in my mind, this still wasn’t a no.

The beginning of last week was probably not one of the best ways to start the week off…my uncle passed away.  I received a flood of text messages from my family asking me to ring them back, and this was unusual for them. Though we weren’t very close, I was still upset. He was my uncle, and every time we made trips to Sri Lanka, he was always there.  I took a couple of days off work though weirdly enough, it felt like I wasn’t present most of the week. However we’re managing to carry on. I found it weird how every time my family asked if I was ok, I actually felt worse. I don’t know if that’s normal, maybe I just wanted some space for a bit.

This week almost feels like things are a little bit normal again. I’ve been trying to get on with things-marathon training (which I recommenced today), chasing jobs for the expedition, reading and establishing a routine again. Yes sometimes I like normal. Normal is trying to keep yourself busy and occupied with something, wanting to wake up in the morning to do it. Its important, it helps you get through the not so nice times, and it can help you feel a little less blah about yourself.

An inspiration

It’s a funny thing when you’re not busy at your job. Your mind is at rest, it’s free for ideas and it’s open to inspiration. This is what I want for life!

I spent the majority of my week off seeking this inspiration. I have been reading a book by Tracey Kidder called Mountains beyond mountains. It’s a biography about a doctor who has a vision:to solve global health problems-my natural interest!

From Harvard he goes to Haiti, curing infectious diseases in the poor communities. This is where I am up to so far in the book, but from here he makes his way to Peru, Cuba and Russia.

This paragraph caught my eye: 

Yes I could have typed out this paragraph, but I thought it would be more real to have a photograph instead, taken by my phone!

It’s an excerpt of what the famous physician Virchow once said, and I tried to incorporate this into what I want to achieve. I want to be a “natural attorney” of the poor. That’s my inspiration. What’s yours?

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part I

Question: Why have I decided to create a healthcare expedition?

Answer: Because I believe I can be of more value, to the people who need it.

According to UpToDate’s article on ‘Screening for cervical cancer in resource-limited settings’, cervical cancer is the most common malignancy among women in the developing world, where more than 85% of worldwide cervical cancer deaths occur.

I have been in regular contact with the community hospital in Bwindi, who have expressed wishes for some equipment…including:

-A colposcope-a special magnifying device used to look at the cervix. If part of the organ is found to be abnormal, a medical professional can take a tissue sample and send it for analysis

-and a cryotherapy machine, used to treat the early stages of cancer.

jcct-colposcopy-illustration-11-13cervix4

It would be fantastic to get this equipment for the hospital. It could really save so many lives, what more value can you provide? But I thought to myself, how on earth can I get it? I’m only a GP trainee and I don’t really have any connections with the gynaecology department, or any medical equipment stores. So I decided to take the first step…I needed to make the connections. I went on our hospital trust’s website, searched for the list of consultants, word searched ‘colposcop'(in the hope of finding either colposcopist/colposcopy/colposcope) and a list of 3 colposcopists appeared. I emailed them all, appealing to them for advice and direction, about how to get this equipment.

I didn’t hear anything for almost two weeks. And at the point of almost giving up on them, I came home from work and checked my emails, only this time to find a reply. And then two. And then a chain. My enquiry was passed onto other gynaecology colleagues and the general manager of the gynaecology department, all absolutely pointing me in the right direction(!)

My next steps are:

  1. To get in touch with the medical equipment stores for quotations.
  2. To organise fund-raising for the equipment

It just goes to show, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If people can, they will most probably go out of their way to help you. And if they can’t, what have you got to lose? You did your bit by asking.