Imagine you wake up in the night, sweating and your joints are aching. There’s no such thing as a home thermometer, but you know you have a fever. Immediately you know, it’s malaria, a common, but deadly disease in Africa if not treated in time. The symptoms have just arose, while there is no need to panic, you know the clock has started ticking.
You check your money pouch, you’ve just spent the little money you made from selling your harvested maize on your children’s school fees. The harvest of your beans is not expected for a couple months. There is about 6,000 shillings (equivalent to $3), it’s enough to buy the medication needed, but not enough for transportation to get to the nearest clinic 40 kilometers away.
First thing you do in the morning is go out to the garden and pick some local herbs to drink in your tea. The local herbs will not cure the malaria, but they will act as a temporary medicine and relieve some of the symptoms. It’s just enough to give you strength while you ask surrounding neighbors to help with small jobs on their gardens so you can raise money for the cost of transportation.
Upon talking with one of the neighbors, he tells you a medical team is coming to a surrounding village the next day. Your heart leaps with joy; this time around you don’t have to worry about how long it will take to earn money for transportation. A clinic is in walking distance. You are confident you’ll get the malaria medication needed before your condition gets too severe.
This is just one of the many testimonies that arose from this year’s medical camp. Since 2013, we have hosted an annual 3-day medical camp with our partners from Covenant Life Church. This year we treated a record number of 1,701 patients.
In a community where people are praying they don’t fall sick or just get used to living with a toothache, or seeing blurry words when they read their Bible - this year’s medical camp brought a variety of treatment options for the community of Zirobwe and surrounding villages.
“We have been raising funds for a medical clinic in the village and it was such a blessing to use our newly constructed clinic for this 3 day medical camp,” said Benon Katumwa, Operational Manager in Uganda. “The multiple rooms allowed us to open designated sections for triage, dental, optical, general doctors and a pharmacy.”
Every day people came from the community and 8 surrounding villages, arriving as early 5:00 am, to receive treatment. The clinic’s doors did not even open until 9:00 am.
This year we had a huge boost in the optical section, thanks to the Laster family from Arkansas. They held an eyeglass collection drive in their community before they came to Uganda.
Kim Laster said, "Serving with the vision team during the medical clinic to help provide the people of Zirobwe and surrounding villages with the opportunity for clear vision was an amazing experience,” she continued, “I will never forget the tears of an elderly man as he joyfully and loudly read the Bible to us and then shared in Lugandan that he had not been able to read his Bible in over twenty years."
The optical clinic dispensed 250 pairs of eyeglasses in the three days.
This year a team of 13 people, lead by David Bottomley from Covenant Life Church in Southern Indiana, brought in over $80,000 dollars worth of donated medicine.
Leonard Nyanzi, a father of ten children, walked 3 kilometers to the medical camp.
Nyanzi said, “I have been having eye complications for now 3 years which have been itchy. After visiting a number of clinics and purchasing drugs for my eye complications, nothing was of help until I visited the medical camp.” Nyanzi continued, “I have no words to express the joy I feel getting this treatment for free, I wish I could give them something but I don’t have anything but all I ask is may the Lord richly bless them greatly.”
David Bottomley’s team in the pharmacy section filled over 6,000 prescriptions.
Bottomly said, “This place is holy ground, these people make me humbled. I am blessed to be able to bring a medical team here every year. These people are happy with tears that they are getting medical care but they are also hearing the joy of the gospel of Christ. We want to treat the sick but also heal the spirit.”
Dr. Fred Damulira led the general practitioners of Ugandan doctors. Dr. Damulira reported that the majority of cases were respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, STIs and malaria.
Damulira said, “We had a few worse conditions that were beyond our control and made referrals to bigger hospitals with better equipment.”
Janna Burger, a nursing student from Iowa volunteered at this year’s medical camp. Janna has been a major advocate in our, “Promise for Provia” campaign, to bring accessible healthcare to the community of Zirowbe. She has done this in honor of Provia, a little girl she met 3 years ago, who passed away due to a heart condition.
Burger recalls one story that impacted her during the medical camp,
“There was one grandmother who came in with a one-year old little girl. The girl was so malnourished, she looked like she was only months old. I could see her ribs, and she had a bloated belly from the malnutrition and discolored hair as well. I learned from the doctor that her mother had died a few months back and all her grandmother was able to feed her was cow's milk. We only had five bottles of single-serving infant formula, and I helped the grandmother learn how to use it, but it was disheartening knowing that this child needed a much larger supply of formula and perhaps even a hospital stay in order to be well. This was one example of the fact that while medical camp was wonderful and much-needed, it is not a long-term solution.”
Damulira echoed the need for consistent health care in these remote villages of Uganda. “The overwhelming number of people who came during the 3 day camp only showed an increase and a need of health care in this community and the surrounding communities.”
Burger said, “Medical camp was a mixture of emotions for me. On one hand, it was wonderful to see people being treated with care and compassion for the illnesses that were interfering with their daily lives. On the other hand, I was faced with the inexorable reality that only one prescription of medication and one day of care could only do so much for those with chronic health conditions. Even while one prescription of antibiotics can kill off a debilitating infection and prevent it from becoming life-threatening, it is not a complete fix of the problem. If sanitary conditions and practices are not met, a cycle of recurring infections will continue to manifest and hinder a person's quality of life.”
Bottomly said, “I would like to still plan to have at least one medical clinic every year, this will serve multiple functions not limited to exposure free goods and medicines and the remnant to backfill our pharmacy in the clinic. The beauty of having a pharmacy on going is to have a flow of medicines for symptoms like blood pressure and vitamin deficiencies that need regular availability and saturation. “
Since our first medical camp in 2013 we’ve treated just over 5,000 patients. There is a dire need of accessible healthcare in the communities we work in.
The structure of the medical clinic is complete, now we just need to furnish the clinic with furniture, examination tables and laboratory equipment. We are thankful for the medical team supplying the pharmacy with some of the most requested medications and for individual medical volunteers who continue to bring small supplies and medications for the clinic.
This has been a long journey to bring an accessible clinic to Zirobwe since Janna Burger began advocating for it in 2012. Burger said, “I would encourage other medical professionals and students to consider advocating for the community of Zirobwe and raising funds so that Empowered Clinic in memory of Provia can be completed and available to people on a daily basis.”
Besides fund raising we need those in the medical community to advocate for donated medical equipment that can be shipped to Uganda.
Burger said, “I saw medical camp as the beginning to a long journey in which the destination is healthy, self-sustaining community with sanitary disease prevention techniques practiced and quality medical care always readily available when needed.”
“I do believe that her memory and story stirred people's hearts and compelled them to realize the injustices people face due to lack of medical care.” The Provia clinic is proof that Empower a Child and it’s volunteers are eager to seek change in the Zirobwe community.