Come with me on a short trip to Uganda. The main base for Hospice Africa is in Kampala - the capital city; built across 7 seven hills. Uganda is frenetically preparing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) with seemingly every road dug up and a forest of shrubs and plants ready for planting - if only it would stop raining. Several Ugandans asked me whether the Queen would be happy with the preparations and I had to confess I am not often chatting with HRH. Getting around is by minibus taxi known as 'mutato' with most journeys culminating in the taxi park. For the more adventurous there are the motorcycle taxis or 'boda bodas'. No helmets and a dusty ride but at least you can weave through the traffic jams. Several hours down the busy highway towards Rwanda and the DRC, in Mbarara, there is a very different model for Hospice Africa. Here a vehicle laden with medicines, antiseptic wash, morphine and children's toys leaves early in the morning. Stops are made along the 74km main road towards the district clinic where patients waited for their monthly review. Clinics under the banyan tree - often with a curious audience. We drove past the daily events of life in Ibanda district; boys dragging their heavy loads of matoke (staple diet of steamed bananas) to market and car mechanics setting up shop in the street. Martha and her team were not only offering a great clinical service but also were concerned with the financial challenges, family support and spiritual care. Holistic care in action. Our last patient was seen up a dirt track in the dark - and a sobering site as a desperately poor mother tries to keep her family together despite her illness. No sign of food or fire for the night - thankfully the team were able to offer practical help, clinical care and compassionate concern.
Did you sense some of the realities of palliative care in Africa? I is amazing to see how much has been achieved across Uganda with the support of the government and many many people who are committed to bringing comfort and care. We are discussing an exciting and challenging project to support the training and teaching in Kampala. Next week I will be at the African Palliative Care conference in Nairobi where the theme is 'keeping it real'; so watch out for the next post.
Meanwhile my favourite portrait of the inspiration and founder of Hospice Africa, Dr Anne Merriman. Surrounded by kittens and puppies as ever!