Death is inevitable but a little too inevitable in Uganda

Death is inevitable but a little too inevitable in Uganda

“Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”-  William Shakespeare 

One of the guys on the farm lost his daughter today. I am not sure how old the girl was but her father is only 23. Just like that. Dead. It was only last week that he took the day off work to take her some medicine, but today she’s gone. There is a very sombre mood at the farm this evening.

Death seems to be everywhere.  Two weeks ago one of the neighbours called to offer his apologies that he would not be able to attend the community meeting the following day. He was going to Kampala to collect a body.   And just last week the neighbour from whom the old man bought his land, died.  He had come home complaining of stomach cramps and then he started spitting blood. As is the practice here, he went to the clinic and was given some tablets to take.  No one did any tests to check what was wrong with him, they just gave him tablets.  The following day he was dead.

There is no such thing as a national health service. Although there are free government hospitals they are seriously underfunded and understaffed. Most of the doctors and consultants who work in these hospitals also run their own private clinics on the side. Having a side hustle to make ends meet is very common in Uganda. Medication allocated to the government hospitals is often stolen by unscrupulous health care practitioners and then sold in these private clinics or in the pharmacies dotted across the country.  Last month the old man bought some malaria tablets for my grandmother. When he got home and opened the packaging he discovered that on it was written “to the people of Kenya from China.” That is how far and wide the pilfering extends!  There is no strict regulation for the dispensing of medicines either. Anyone with some sort of medical qualification can open a pharmacy or clinic. Qualified pharmacists are authorised to open up to three pharmacies in their own name. As a result, some of them sell their licences to unqualified business people looking to make money who freely dispense medicines as if they are sweeties to an ignorant public.

In a way I don’t blame the health care workers given that they are paid a pittance.  When my stepsister was an intern she used to get paid the equivalent of £150 a month and sometimes she was paid three to four months in arrears.  If she was working part time I might, at a push, understand, but she was on call 24-7. I really don’t know how they expect health care workers to live?  Whilst chatting with her yesterday about this dead neighbour she explained how she had nearly lost someone on the operating table herself. They did not have the right equipment for that particular operation and the patient was just very lucky to survive.  I wonder what percentage of deaths in hospital are avoidable deaths. Plus she and her colleagues work silly hours. One time she actually fainted in theatre from sheer exhaustion and hunger after working 28 hours straight. Given the nature of their work you would think that the health authorities would ensure that they were well rested and fed. But “this is Uganda” as everyone keeps telling me. A fatalistic expression that both saddens and infuriates me. I just hope that I don’t fall sick whilst I am here.

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