Florence is a health care worker at the busy Kawempe Health Centre 4 (level just below a hospital). Florence has been a health care worker for over 30 years.
Kawempe is a slightly more than usual disadvantaged area in the north-west of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. I live with Florence and her family 5km south of the city centre where I enjoying walking to and from the UNICEF office in less than an hour each way. Florence journey is much longer and more difficult process. The traffic in Kampala is horrendous. On a good day Florence will arrive ready for work in one and a half hours, on a bad day double that and with a minimum return commute in the worse evening traffic of at least 2 hours. All of this on crammed, unsafe and dodgy taxi vans. In the evenings she then services the health of her own local community as a source of information and surveillance with frequent visitors coming to her for advice and help – this is just one more remarkable health care worker like Denish.
Once Florence has faced the challenges of her commute in the morning she arrives at the health facility that is under-staffed and under-resourced and is heavily populated with needy people with a range of life-threatening complications. She does her work with unrelenting energy, sympathy and resilience – if there are gold medals in being a human, Florence and almost all of the health care workers I have met in Uganda deserve at least one!
When I go to these health facilities to talk about polio and routine immunisation it is hard to share with them the proactive nature and importance of vaccines when they can barely provide the reactive and emergency health services people are needing. They health care workers know the importance of immunisation but it is hard to sensitise people who are usually addressing sickness in their own family or don’t understand going to the health facility when they are healthy!
For me it is very interesting to see the contrast in health services from the remote reaches of Karamoja in north-east Uganda to the capital of Kampala. In my limited experience and observations I see that despite Karamoja having to face challenges of transport, electricity and harsh weather conditions the challenges right here in the capital are probably slightly more overwhelming as they have to deal with more people, more reactive health care and being severely under-resourced for the number of people they are trying to serve.
However the one denominator that is consistent is the true heroics and importance of the health care workers no matter where they are. Each of them face adversity and challenges and make personal sacrifices to try and deliver health care for their community and country.
So what can all of this mean to the developed world?
We can empathise with the hard work of Denish and Florence which is an important step but we can also take action. See great initiatives like a recent one from the Global Poverty Project’s Global Citizen platform, where they are asking major tel-co’s to give free airtime and texts to health care workers in Sub-Saharan Africa; or the 1 Million Community Health Workers push to see more people like Florence service their communities and countries.
One other little side note I must add about Florence. In the past week and a half she has had to give up her job temporarily to look after her sick brother in the major city hospital. Her brother sadly passed this morning but again it shows the work and sacrifice people here show and must do as there are not so many government services. As a result Florence’s family missed out on her important income for a week and the community of Kawempe are without their amazing health care worker for a week who is not substituted for that time.
So let’s see more health care workers and resources for them to match their dedication and service!