Friday, January 28, 2011

"Where There is No Doctor"

Imagine traveling hours by boat to visit a medical clinic for a persisting condition.

Imagine traveling over the water when you are terribly sick, with the flu, malaria or worse.

Imagine hiking over rocks and on dusty, narrow paths under the intense tropical sun to reach a place where you can purchase medicine for your sick child, if you happen to have the money, if the personnel are on duty, and if they have the right medicine in stock.

Imagine you are in incredible labor, but the only person available to help you, has received no formal medical training. And, the nearest qualified personnel can only be reached by crossing a large, sometimes unforgiving lake.

The incredible healthcare needs of the islands really hit home yesterday.

As Mama O and I waited in the boat to make the trip to Lingira from Jinja, the woman behind us seriously cut her finger. As usual, there were several other boats anchored at the port, and the choppy water kept knocking the vessels together. Not being a customary traveler of the water, the woman had inadvertantly held on to the side of our boat, just before a neighboring one hit ours, deeply cutting her finger.

I remembered I had bandaids in my backpack (which I had only recently put there) and also "happened" to find an eyeglass cleaning cloth, which had alcohol on it and I thought might help to clean the wound. With the help of Mama O, the woman tried cleaning her bleeding finger, initially washing it in the dirty lake water in the bottom of the boat, before we gasped and pursuaded her otherwise. The bandaids were too small, but they helped to slow the bleeding and protect her finger for the hour and a half boat ride ahead.

As we crossed the choppy lake to Lingira, I commented to Mama O that I hoped the woman lived near the island clinic, so she could get her finger properly treated. I was concerned that it could be easily infected.

As we landed sometime later, we learned the woman was only briefly stopping in Lingira, before continuing on to another island to visit her sister. Before catching the next boat, Mama O invited the woman to come to Shepherd's Heart where we had adequate medical supplies to better dress her finger. (On a side note, we learned the woman was a believer and may be from the same tribe as Papa O.)

Yesterday evening, I also heard of a woman in one of the local island camps who recently delivered twins. However, because the person attending her was not properly trained, both babies died shortly after birth. And, in the days following, the mother continues to be in intense pain.

Bearing children on the islands can be a definite challenge. Many women do give birth here. But if they encounter complications they are subject to the once-a-day-to-mainland schedules of the public boats. As you know, babies usually don't arrive on a schedule. A couple of years ago, one local island mother did give birth to her son in the SHIM boat on the lake at night. She named him Moses since he was born on the water. : )

Pastor Waboka and his wife Susan welcomed a healthy baby girl, Esther, last September. She was delivered safely and without complications on the island. 

YWAM (Youth With a Mission) has operated a clinic in Lingira camp (about a 20-minute walk from SHIM's base) for a number of years. But, it has struggled with retaining staff, getting adequate funding and supplies from the government, and having those who receive services actually pay for them.

We at SHIM are fairly well stocked and I am so grateful for Karina and Mama O, who are trained nurses and have seen and treated many patients over the years. I feel much safer knowing they are around.

On Lingira healthcare is a challenge, but nothing in comparison to those who live even further into the lake.

Earlier this year, YWAM Uganda requested SHIM to take over operations of the clinic and base on Namiti Island, located about two hours beyond Lingira and a total of almost four hours from the mainland. This clinic was established in 1998, but around 2006 it closed due to staffing and funding issues. For nearly five years, the people of Namiti and the surrounding islands have had no healthcare, except for limited services and consultation by a few community health workers, who are trained in a limited capacity.

The Namiti base and clinic, before renovations began this month.

Because of God's gracious provision so SHIM, renovations are underway at the base and clinic. We are now earnestly praying for qualified and faithful health workers who would live and work at the clinic. It takes special people to be willing to stay in a remote and rustic location. Our desire is also for people who have a heart for the islands, and who love God. We are continuing to trust God as we know He is not only the Great Physician, but the Great Provider as well.

As far as we know, there only a handful of medical clinics, if not less, serving the 52 Buvuma islands, and the thousands of people living on them.
Encountering health needs and hearing heartbreaking stories like those of yesterday, make the great urgency for medical services on the islands a very stark reality. It is difficult to adequately describe this reality.

Attending to the people's physical needs was one way Jesus also touched their spiritual needs. As people have been treated at SHIM, Karina and Mama O have also had opportunity to share the love and salvation of Jesus, as they serve in this very practical way.

Day by day, the island people are suffering, and even dying.

Will you join me in prayer for this great need on the islands?

On top of Lingira Island - looking beyond
Note: The post's title, "Where There is No Doctor," is the same title of a book that Karina has, which contains valuable medical advice for those living in places like the islands.

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