Aspen ambassador lends a hand in Uganda
Forty-five out of every 1,000 infants in Uganda in 2012 died before reaching the age of one.
In Bermuda, only two out of every 1,000 infants died by the same age.
The Ugandan statistic represents a considerable improvement since 1990, when the infant mortality rate was 104 deaths out of every 1,000 babies born.
Roughly one in ten women in Uganda become HIV-positive by their late 30s. About one in ten men are infected by their early 40s.
An aggressive public awareness campaign in Uganda that urged medical treatment and monogamous sexual relationships led to an encouraging drop in infection rates in the 1990s. Unfortunately, recent studies show that the AIDS rate is on the rise again.
Kristy Simons pictured shiny floors, private rooms and paved driveways when she first heard about Uganda’s state-of-the-art Kiwoko Hospital.
The reality was so different from her fantasy that she now laughs thinking about it.
“Kiwoko Hospital definitely did not look like King Edward VII Memorial Hospital,” she said. “It is on 25 acres. There are no private or semi-private rooms. The wards are just big rooms. There can be anywhere from ten to 50 people on a ward. Everything was in separate little buildings such as male ward, female ward, maternity, and neonatal. It was a shock. There was a dirt road leading up to the hospital and an open-air market going on outside the gates.”
Ms Simons went to the African nation as an Aspen ambassador. The re/insurer sends several of its employees to the Nakaseke hospital each year to view Aspen-funded ISIS Foundation programmes. ISIS is a Bermuda-based charity that works to improve lives in remote areas of Nepal and Uganda.
The Kiwoko hospital is top-of-the-line for its district in Uganda. People come from miles around to use it, particularly the neonatal intensive care unit.
“The ambassador programme gives us an opportunity to see what our contributions to the ISIS Foundation are doing for the various projects at the Kiwoko Hospital and the nearby community,” said Ms Simons, assistant financial controller at Aspen Bermuda Limited. “I have wanted to go to Uganda since Aspen began offering the trip in 2008, but it wasn’t until this year that I felt it was the right time.”
She spent a week at the Kiwoko Hospital, viewing a different programme each day. One memorable day was spent playing with children in an HIV/AIDS clinic. The children ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers.
“That was the day I broke down,” she said. “I was looking into their innocent little faces and thinking that could be my child — I have a 12-year-old son, Khyri.
“I think they come in every two or three weeks to get medication, or additional food if they need it. We spent the morning playing with the children and interacting. It gave them a chance to just be children.”
The children in the clinic were happy and healthy, for the most part, but she could imagine the struggles they would have to go through in their lives.
“We also spent time with a group of HIV-positive ladies that are helped by the hospital,” Ms Simons said. “We had a chance to sit and talk with them and discuss their lives before and after contracting the disease and to find out how they are now coping with providing for their families. Many of these women were able to take the necessary medication to prevent the transmission of HIV to the babies. These amazing ladies have formed a co-op through the Kiwoko Hospital where they make jewellery, weave baskets, placemats and other goods in order to provide for their families.”
One of the trip’s lighter moments came when the Aspen ambassadors took a ten-mile walk around the hospital.
“One of the things that struck me was how independent the Ugandan children were compared to children in Bermuda,” said Ms Simons. “They would be out walking with their friends, just having fun, or you would see five-year-olds looking after babies. You would also see five- or six-year-olds out gardening on a Saturday morning instead of sleeping in or going to swimming lessons or whatever, as children in Bermuda do. As a parent, that struck me.”
The trip really opened her eyes to how privileged we are here.
“It really puts things in perspective,” she said. “It just showed how much we take for granted in Bermuda. You see people living in mud houses and you see what we have here. In western society we want more all the time. We are not happy no matter what we have because we want the next thing. These people are just happy to be living.”
For more on the trip see www.isisgroup.org/general/aspen-ambassadors-trip-2014.