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Bringing the Healing Spirit of God

Posted on May 1, 2020, by Loretto Community

The following article came from Mary Ann Gleason. It was sent April 4 to Jean Schildz at Jean’s request for submission to The Record, the Catholic newspaper for the Louisville Archdiocese. Interchange is happy to share it with our readers.

By Mary Ann Gleason

All photos courtesy of Mary Ann Gleason

Greetings from Uganda where I have been privileged to work for the past 12 years as a health care provider. Since 2013, I have been at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in the northern part of Uganda in a town called Gulu. Allow me to give you a bit of background about our hospital. Founded in 1959 by the Comboni Sisters and Brothers, Lacor Hospital has historically suffered through repressive regimes, a 20-year civil conflict initiated by the LRA and an Ebola crisis, the latter resulting in the death of 13 of its staff. During the civil conflict, Lacor treated the medical and surgical needs of civilian victims, soldiers and rebels and opened its door to provide protective shelter for six to 8,000 people on a nightly basis. Lacor is located in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda, which continues to bear the economic burdens of post-conflict sequelae (medical complications). As documented by the government of Uganda in its sixth and most recent National Household Survey (2016-2017), which had a 92.7% response rate, the Acholi sub-region is characterized by the following socio-economic realities:

• Subsistence farming is the main source of earnings for 62.2% of households. Poverty increased from 23% (2012-13) to 36% (2016-17) among households headed by subsistence farmers.

• Non-agricultural enterprise: 13.5% (down from 19.1% in 2012-13 – the last household survey)

• Enrollment in primary education: 77.2% (does not verify actual attendance)

• Enrollment in secondary education: 15.9% (Males = 18%; Females = 13.8%)

• Household expenditures: 5.6% on health care; 6.4% on education; 49.1% on food Now, to answer your questions:

1. Yes, the coronavirus has impacted our work at Lacor Hospital. The biggest change is that we have had to restrict our care to emergencies only, since we have had to rearrange our wards to prepare for patients who are either suspected or confirmed to have the virus. Fortunately, about three years ago, the hospital developed a wall oxygen delivery system, allowing oxygen to be placed at the bedside of about 50 of our 480 beds. Additionally, we have the only ICU in our northern region which is equipped with ventilators. Unfortunately, that is not true of the government hospital in our district. Therefore, Lacor has been readied to accept patients with symptoms of the virus. Thus far, Uganda has only 52 individuals who have tested positive and are quarantined. Lacor currently has two patients considered suspects for the virus.

We do continue to provide needed care to pregnant mothers, since we serve as a referral hospital in northern Uganda for complications of pregnancy, in addition to the typical delivery of about 10,000 babies annually. However, public transportation has been shut down as part of the countrywide lockdown unless given permission from a local government official, so getting to the hospital can be difficult.

I have been working primarily in oncology care and with patients having complications of HIV. The issue of restricted public transportation has proven challenging for patients trying to return for their next cycle of chemotherapy. Recently, one of my patients told me he had to pay about $150 to get here for a journey that would have cost about $15 if the buses were running. He will remain here for the three-week intervals between chemo cycles. Lacor’s HIV Outreach Team continues to provide needed antiretroviral drugs to patients in their villages so they do not have to travel to the hospital to get their drugs.

2. All of us who work at and around Lacor are doing what we can to cope with the situation. The limitations here have to do with families’ lack of access to food, close village quarters, a seriously depleted health system, a lockdown which prohibits small-scale self-employed workers from access to income since what they are able to sell (tomatoes, cassava, used clothes, transport on their motorcycles), they cannot now sell due to the lockdown. The government has started a food distribution program, but only in Kampala. The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, tried to insist the distribution be nationwide, but the president refused, citing the lack of money to do so.

Two other major consequences of the lockdown are (1) the reduced access to blood for our children who become severely anemic (hemoglobin levels of 2.1 or 3.0) due to malaria, hemolysis of unknown origin, sickle cell disease. 70 to 80 percent of blood donors in Uganda are secondary school students. The donor drives for these students occur at their schools. All Uganda schools have been closed as part of the lockdown. Tragically, Lacor experiences the premature death of far too many children due to lack of access to blood. The Uganda Minister of Health also has alerted us to the coming increase in malaria within the next three or four weeks. This year is projected to have a higher than normal rate of severe malaria, further heightening the need for blood. Lacor’s pediatric ward can have three times the number of patients during high malaria times, such that three children occupy one bed; (2) children with Sickle Cell Disease who go into crises of severe pain can take a medication that controls the crisis episodes. With the lockdown, some are not able to get to Lacor to access the needed medicine.

3. I stay connected to family and Loretto friends via email, WhatsApp and Zoom as time allows. I’m grateful when it does.

I have attached three pictures:

a. Jovia is a 14-year-old cancer patient whom I have been privileged to know, love and care for.

b. Juliette was 15 when she died from co-morbidities that included multi-drug resistant TB, a previously collapsed lung and esophageal stricture which caused her to vomit whenever she ate. We spent many a day clasping one another’s hands, sharing hugs.

c. I am attaching a photo of the miracle of what blooms even when there is no obvious soil in which to do so. On my way to the ward, I saw this lovely site. As you see, the flowers are embedded in concrete. It spoke to me of the possible. Across our world we build psychological/cultural cement around ourselves and our lives to block out others, to remain firm in rejection, to be impenetrable, even in the face of change that brings us closer to our real selves – our God-given selves. But then if only we notice and allow, the flower blooms.


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