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Monday, 2 February 2015

#MAKCHSAMedicalCamp in Kaabong

Fast forward: MAKCHSA stands for Makerere University College of Health Sciences Student’s Association.
MAKCHSA organized a medical camp at Kaabong hospital running from 20th to 23rd Dec 2014 under the theme, “Screening as a key component of disease prevention and treatment”
Though we parted with shs.30000 to get a slot in the team to travel to Kaabong, it was a great opportunity to tour Eastern Uganda since it would be my first time journeying through that side of Uganda. I was especially eager to visit Karamoja region because I’ve heard so many stories about the place and its people.
The Journey
The organizers duly informed us that departure time would be 5:30 am on the 20th December 2014. Being the good time keeper that I am, I made it to the set off point with a few minutes to spare. But guess what, we set off at 10:00am which did not come as a surprise bearing in mind the ‘the African time syndrome’.
A couple of things caught my attention along the way:

1.      The chicken thighs at Najjembe in Mabira along Jinja highway. It stirred a bit of debate on Facebook whether they were actually chicken thighs or not. Irrespective of what people think, the fact is they’re very tasty and I think even quite tastier than the Wandegeya Chicken. It is a must eat if you’re travelling along the highway.



2.      A brief stopover in Mbale. The town itself is not very clean especially around the market. To be frank, it is dirty. Inside the market, though, was bursting with activities. Something unique was people busy ironing clothes using charcoal iron boxes. My assumption (I stand to be corrected) was these are laundry service providers. Can you imagine in this era people still taking their clothes to the market to be ironed.

Ironing service in Mbale market,

You cannot talk about Mbale without mentioning the Imbalu (the traditional circumcision ceremony of the Bagishu to initiate Boys into adulthood). I was glad to briefly witness a session.
Imabalu session in Mbale town
Enjoying a brief stop over in Mbale town.

3.      Soroti town didn’t leave up to its high billing which my friends from there are proud of. I was barely impressed by the multitude of buildings and houses with old rusting iron sheets along the main street, though the town looked way cleaner than Mbale.
Part of Soroti town.

If you plan to travel to Kaabong, beware, it is a tedious 13 hour, by Google map estimate, over 600km journey via the eastern route and likely to be prolonged due to multiple stopovers to give the driver a break. The road from Soroti to Kaabong doesn’t help either, due to pot holes and the huge stones on the surfaces. After turns of sleeping, waking, standing in the bus, we finally set foot in Kaabong hospital at 4:20 am in the morning of 21st. It was so cold probably below 15°C.
Day 1
We were welcomed by Dr.Nyombi, the only doctor in the hospital who also doubles as the medical superintendent.
Dr.Nyombi(extreme left).Our prinicpal(In squared shirt) came to check on us.

The plan was to conduct the medical camp on Sunday and go for a tour of Kidepo Volley National Park on Monday. However the turn up on Sunday was so poor that we decided to push the camp to Monday and instead went to the park that very afternoon on Sunday.
We had 110% fun in the park thanks to our amazing tour guide Mr. Phillip who confidently answered a variety of our questions about the animals, the park, the animals’ mating habits, gay animals, poaching, and how to defend oneself when attacked by an animal. However we only got to see just a few animals because we reached the park a bit late and only toured it for just about an hour. The downside to visiting Kidepo is that the accommodation is not the best and quite not adequate, and I furthernoticed that the road leading to the park could be downright impassable during rainy season.



Some of the wild animals in the park
Mr.Phillip(with a bag around the neck) our tour guide

Friendly ranger.



 Day 2
We conducted the camp for a full day. Activities included cardiovascular disease risk assessment, dental checkups, cancer screening, malaria and HIV testing. Since we had a full team of different health care professionals, some guys assisted the hospital staffs in the pharmacy, laboratory, wards and radiology unit.
Part of Kaabong Hospital.

Kaabong hospital just like any other upcountry government health facility grapples with low human resource and inadequate drug supply and the solar power at the hospital cannot power some medical equipment.
Malnutrition is the main problem affecting the children probably due to the fact that blood and milk is the main food. Quite impressive though is the rarity of maternal and neonatal deaths with the last recorded case, at the time, being in June 2014. Interventions such as paying mothers to deliver in the hospital seem to be bearing fruits. I also observed a number of jigger cases.

The turn up for the camp was so overwhelming that we even had to turn way some people after we ran out of testing strips.

One thing that left me in shock is the scattered feces all over the place. Majority of the people defecate in the open. A short walk just outside the hospital gates and you’re welcomed by a foul smell and sight of both dry and wet fecal matter. I only saw latrines in the hospital and the school (Kaabong Secondary School) where we were staying. The situation is even far worse in Kotido town as we were quite perplexed when we asked around for a public toilet and were directed to an open place just behind one the shops.
 Feces in Kotido town

After cattle rustling, the next war the government and NGO’s has to fight is the issue of latrines, to get the people to construct and use them correctly. If there are interventions already in place, they are not working.
Later in the evening we took a walk around Kaabong town, which is quite dusty because there isn’t a single road that has tarmac. I discovered that life in the town is quite survivable as at least there is one bank (Stanbic), a couple of bars, markets, and mobile money agents.
The main street of Kaabong town

We concluded our stay with a night of goat roasting and serious dancing. Well if you doubt the dancing skills of medics, you should have been there.
The fire we made for the evening
Group photo of the students.
Selfie moment at the park


It was an awesome experience. A couple of colleagues have already shown interest to go back there for pre-internship. If you have not yet been to Karamoja, it is a must visit.

Special thanks to the entire executive of MAKCHSA, our principal Prof. Nelson Ssewankabo, office of the first lady, Delmaw, Highland Mineral Water, UHMG. Your effort and contributions made the camp a success.