7,000 patients get free medical services in Arua

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Arua health camp

On November 18, Bulamu Healthcare International, a not-for-profit charitable organization completed its sixth medical/health camp in Arua, where they managed to treat and attend to more than 7000 patients in just one week.

According to the organizes, the camp’s main objective was to provide free medical care to those living in the remote areas of Uganda and are unable to easily access medical help or afford it.

This time round the camp in Arua was attended by thousands including citizens of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and hundreds of refugees from South Sudan, making it the most-attended camp compared to the previous ones held in Sheema and Mbale districts.

Statistics put the doctor – to – patient ratio in Uganda at a staggering 1:25,000, and this only gets worse in rural areas as evidenced by  the 4300 patients who had already been attended to midway the camp, and yet more continued to pour in.

And indeed, the Bulamu Healthcare camp in Arua couldn’t have come at a better time as it coincided with the doctors’ strike that left many governmental hospitals functioning at the bare minimum because of the small number of doctors on call.

Bulamu Healthcare was founded by a 39-year old Ugandan, Gerald Atwine and James Balassoni, a retired American technology firm executive who passed on aged 75, just after the organization commenced work in 2015.

However, despite the death of Mr. Balassoni, the idea of the health camps is thriving, aided by the participation of volunteers including doctors, nurses, social workers and attendants.

And needless to say, though privately funded, over time the camps have successfully managed to offer a wide range of medical services including dental surgery, optical clinic, general medicine, spiritual counseling, pediatrician and cervical cancer screening, among others.

“We hope to not just treat people and leave but also leave an impression on Ugandans, especially the youth, in order to cultivate a culture that wants to give back and sees the value in that,” Mr. Atwine says.

Occasionally, the health care interventions in Arua, mostly carried out in tents were interrupted by critical cases that needed better management beyond what the camp could provide.

This then meant that the organization went the extra mile to ensure that these special cases were taken care of, by offering to fully fund the patients’ treatment costs and trips to Kampala.

One case in particular that caught the eye of Mr. Atwine was an almost blind local, a one Zubeda Juma, who attended the camp aided by her two daughters, both school dropouts due to their mother’s inability to provide for them let alone look after herself.

And standing before Mr. Atwine, Dr. Wilson Apuuli, the camp’s optician and the media team, the two girls, shaken by the possibility of their mother losing yet another eye, couldn’t help but cry tears of joy as they received the good news that the expensive surgery and trip to Kampala would be fully funded by the organization, to a tune of about Shs1 million.

Casey Jones, a clinical nurse specialist in critical care and trauma and a key agent in the organization of the camp was surprised by the number of people who needed medical assistance, something he attributed to the medical practitioners’ proclivity for ‘greener pastures’.

“There are many people who choose to leave and go abroad to look for a better life and more money after studies and yet they should be bringing back from the diaspora and into their communities like Gerald if we are to develop,” Mr. Jones US Peace Corps volunteer, observed.

He also strongly believes that systems such as primary medical care should be provided by the government. “Despite being a fairly new module, it can be refined in order to better suit the population,” Mr. Jones, who was joined by several other volunteers from all over the world, said.

Also among the volunteers were Angie Boeher and Rose-Mary Spencer, both nurses from Britain and America, who have now worked in Uganda for a year.

“I am surprised and amazed at the organization and structure of this camp given the limited time period we are given. In such a small time it’s been able to run its operations on a rather large scale and I hope that in the future more of these services and medication will be free and available to more Ugandans like they do in Britain,” Ms. Spencer said.

According to Ms. Spencer, the experience gained has helped her become ‘a better nurse for the future’. She disclosed that one of the most challenging cases she worked on involved a young girl of about 10-13, who was paralysed from the waist downwards, beaten by another girl’s mother, following a fight.

“The other girl’s mother had beaten her badly, paralysing the poor thing,” Ms. Spencer said.

Meanwhile, a quick study of the patients at the camp in Arua revealed that women and children were the biggest attendees, something largely attributed to societal norms, structure, costs of treatment and importantly, the unreliable services in most government hospitals.

It is important to note that one of the major services on offer by Bulamu Healthcare that was fully utilized, most especially by the women was the ante-natal care provided by the camp’s Maternity Ward, where 19 women were aided to become mothers in the first few days of the camp, while 115 were expectant.

Doreen Asea, a senior nursing officer and midwife acknowledged that some of the challenges faced by the expectant mothers is the inconsistent supply of maternal health resources by government. She however, noted that to contain the challenge, Bulamu Healthcare offered free ‘mamakits’ to the mothers in the camp.

“Bulamu (Healthcare) is really doing well for these people because they are really poor and cannot afford most of these services that are being offered by the programme. Bulamu provides these patients with drugs that are usually expensive or hard to come by and we really appreciate it,” Ms. Asea said.

In Arua Bulamu Healthcare partnered with among others MUNI University, US Peace Corps volunteers and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to offer a lifeline to the vulnerable and hapless people there and the organization hopes to extend its services to different parts of the country, holding at least six camps a year, starting with Sheema district in February 2018.