“We arrived in Africa and were instantly overwhelmed by the kindness and friendliness of the local people.”
Melbourne student nurse Laura Garnock stepped up, to be part of a team of 19, to visit and assist a hospital in Kampala, Uganda . The first pilot team for ACU, included students of nursing, midwifery and public health.It was a cultural and medical challenge that reinforced her desire to join ‘Doctors without Borders’ sometime in her career.
“We didn’t have too much information about the exchange experience before applying, other than we would be working at Mulago hospital and volunteering in various other community programs over the two weeks. That was enough for me; my attention was caught at ‘Uganda’”. Garnock
Midwifery and Nursing Lecturer’s, Annette Garvey and Jean Mukasa, enabled the trip after years of relentless organising, planning, risk assessment and convincing.
“We all had the common underlying motivation for applying for the Uganda trip. We wanted to help people and work out if we could actually cope with what we saw, continue to do it afterwards and to make a difference. I think most of us could confidently say that, we achieved all three things.” Garnock
The nurses were split up and rotated between medical emergency, surgical emergency and trauma.
“It was when I was on the surgical rotation that I saw a leg amputated. I have never felt so out of my depth in my life, there are many things that I saw in Mulago hospital that I will carry with me forever.
I learnt the power of support, giving a patient or their family member a hug.. The non-verbal communication that we take for granted in Australia, when talking to each other, meant the world to our patients.” Garnock
The student nurses were faced to overwhelming conditions of overcrowding and limited medical options.
“Out of 191 countries in the world, Uganda’s healthcare is rated 186th. 48% of the population in Uganda is under the age of 15. ..On an average day, there is one nurse to 45 patients on the ward, that was how understaffed but incredibly busy this hospital was.
The conditions and illnesses that we saw are generally uncommon in Australia, so it was difficult at first to know where to start, in terms of nursing care. Cardiac shock due to dehydration, Malaria, AIDS (related conditions), TB, Hepatitis B and C were common medical conditions. The trauma centre (casualty) had a wide range of patients from victims of assault and violence, to those needing resuscitation.
..A blood pressure machine was non-existent in some of the wards and those that did have one, had to share it between all 45 patients. Doctors had stethoscopes, but it was a rarity to come across other valuable equipment such as a pulse oximeter or a thermometer. Luckily some of the girls on our trip had the foresight to bring a manual BP machine.” Garnock
Part of the trip was to take part in Community active groups aimed at empowering local residents with simple but powerful options.
We did some outreach work on our days off in the local ‘slums’. We worked with Yimba Uganda, a organisation that is a Ugandan NGO devoted to empowering, training and providing new opportunities to Ugandan’s in order to promote sustainability & independence. L.G
THE GOAT PROGRAM
This program has enabled domestic farming that has led to home ownership for some families.
“A local family is given (loaned) a goat and told to look after it for a while, breed the goat and take responsibility for it’s welfare. At the end of a few months or a year , the family can make a profit from all their efforts” Garnock
THE WOMENS SANITATION PROGRAM
This program offered girls the convenience of menstrual solutions to enable them to fully participate in activities without physical restrictions. Previously, females had to abandon school and work due to ‘this time of the month’.Western options were not feasible due to the problem of waste.
“Anne-Marie, an ACU graduate, designed and made reusable sanitary products for the local Ugandan girls. The local girls were using pages from textbooks, leaves and foam from their mattresses for protection” Garnock
TEXTILES TRAINING PROGRAM
Boys and Girls were trained in sewing to enable them access to clothing and a means of income.
“…to tailor their own clothes and learn more skills in the hope that they can build their own future.”
The students have been active in Local Fund Raisers since their return.For Laura it was a heart warming journey that made her aware of the contrasting medical conditions.
“I think the overwhelming point that I took home from the trip was that people in Australia have no idea how good their healthcare is. We couldn’t even give our patients water to drink.” Garnock
Flag photo by L Garnock of Mulago nurses.