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Reducing Health Care Disparities in Uganda

By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President

World Health Day is April 7, and will focus on building a fairer, healthier world.

As COVID-19 has highlighted, some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others – entirely due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age.

All over the world, families struggle to make ends meet with little daily income, substandard housing conditions, fewer educational and employment opportunities, experience greater gender inequality, and have little or no access to safe environments, clean water, air, food security and health services. This leads to unnecessary suffering, avoidable illness, and premature death. It harms our societies and economies.

MedShare continues to work with its partners to decrease health care disparities in the U.S. and abroad. Recently we were able to work with our long-time partner Worldwide Healing Hands to provide critical supplies to midwives. Worldwide Healing Hands (WHH) is a Medical Mission Team based in California that travels to medically underserved communities to care for women and children and teach healthcare professionals how to treat common illnesses. In 2017, MedShare equipped Dr. Paula Dhanda and her team at WHH as they traveled to Uganda. They took with them supplies and equipment necessary to assist in high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

Dr. Dhanda and her team taught obstetricians and midwives how to treat common and preventable causes of childbirth-related illnesses and death. With tools like ambu-bags, Clean Birthing Kits, and vacuum extractors, these healthcare professionals were able to treat more moms and deliver healthier babies.

One of those healthy babies was David.

Dr. Zirabamuzaale, an OB/GYN at Kabale University Hospital, was called in to the delivery room after the midwife on-call found signs of early fetal distress while examining a young mother in labor named Annet. She was weak and her contractions weren’t progressing normally. Her symptoms pointed to a dangerous condition that Dr. Zirabamuzaale and his team had witnessed many times before. They feared they would have to perform an emergency C-section. That was when Dr. Zirabamuzaale remembered the equipment that had been donated by MedShare and Dr. Dhanda’s team. He rushed to retrieve the tools and begin treating Annet. He had been expertly trained in the use of state-of-the-art techniques but had yet to use them while treating a patient.

Remembering his training, Dr. Zirabamuzaale used the vacuum extractor to carefully deliver a healthy baby boy!

Little baby David was born on October 4th with no additional complications or illnesses. He and his mother were transferred to the postnatal unit to rest happily.

Dr. Zirabamuzaale shared his excitement with us:

“It’s extremely difficult to hide my joy and happiness and even so more difficult not to share with you what happened yesterday (4/10/2017). It was at 3:43 p.m. that I delivered an elderly 30-year-old prim gravida with Maternal Exhaustion by vacuum Extraction! Great thanks to you Dr. Dhanda and Prof. Silverman and above all MedShare and the World Wide Healing Hands. This success I attribute your support to us.

This was the first time that the doctor had used a vacuum extractor. In fact, it was the first mother to benefit from the vacuum extractors donated by MedShare, but prevented a major surgery being performed that might have resulted in additional complications.

The biggest challenge for Uganda, like most developing countries, is inadequate resources. Uganda has five medical colleges and 29 nursing schools training people in Western medicine. Even so, there remains a shortage in healthcare workers, with only one doctor for every 8,300 Ugandans.

With 70% of doctors practicing in urban areas, where only 20% of the population lives, the coverage in rural areas is much worse: one doctor for every 22,000 people. Programs are in place to train community health workers, forming Village Health Teams that operate at the local level, but coverage has been too limited to solve the problems. The Uganda Ministry of Health conducts annual surveys that assess health system performance, and these have shown significant shortcomings in availability and quality of service.

Substantial health care disparities exist between much of rural and urban Sub-Saharan Africa. MedShare continues to hear complaints of a lack medical supplies and equipment and long wait times. This uneven service discourages patients from seeking out professional care, especially in rural areas with longer travel times.

MedShare continues to work to decrease these disparities by equipping medical professionals with the tools that they need and partnering with organizations like Worldwide Healing Hands that provide critical medical training to build capacity in country. As we celebrate World Health Day, please consider supporting organizations like MedShare and Worldwide Healing Hands, or just say thank you to the countless health heroes that work tirelessly every day to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and other health challenges.

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