By: Loyce Pace Bass, LIVESTRONG Foundation
We’ve had a great start to what’s shaping up to be a successful study tour so far!
Delegates came ready with energy for a number of site visits and plenty of questions for stakeholders on the ground. Health systems definitely have emerged as a major theme here in Uganda, with human resources topping the list of concerns. The country retains only fifty percent of trained health personnel, which has officials constantly playing catch-up when it comes to bringing new doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff online. Another problem is supplies, from drugs and technologies to basics such as antiseptic and rubber gloves. Providers are hard-pressed to meet the country’s vast health priorities with increasingly limited resources, and this is only becoming more strained with a growing population (expected to triple within the next 15 years) and as the disease burden shifts to include NCDs. For example, there is currently only one cardiologist in the country to deal with the vast number of patients that come through the main hospital’s clinics with complications stemming from hypertension and heart disease.
One bright spot amidst the myriad challenges is Uganda Cancer Institute. During the 40-plus years of its existence, this facility has emerged a leader in cancer research for Uganda, Africa, and the world at-large. Their cases were the first to help identify and address linkages between cancers and infectious diseases like malaria and HIV. They’ve implemented groundbreaking treatment protocols now adopted by oncologists worldwide. But there’s still a ways to go. The director speaks to a persistent missing link with the PEPFAR program, although 60 percent of the Institute’s cases are related to HIV. An ideal scenario, he noted, is one in which patients and providers aren’t battling two diseases simultaneously – cancer and HIV – but able to control one and focus on the other. “Cure, not co-morbidity.” He also hopes for a time when children with cancer in Uganda can enjoy the same survival rates as their peers in western countries. Still Uganda Cancer Institute is doing everything it can to address the needs of people affected by cancer in Uganda today. And, by many accounts, having a significant impact on the burden.
That’s another recurring theme from our brief, whirlwind visit: people who feel responsible for the health of this country are doing what they can, earnestly so. The alternative clearly isn’t an option for them. It’s dedicated individuals like the head of a health center in a district outside the capital city of Kampala who hold promise for many women that visit him for antenatal and postnatal care. And efforts such as that of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute whose members have developed a strategic plan for integrating NCDs into existing healthcare programs, with a focus on training and research. These champions are critical to bridging the gap between what’s needed and what’s possible, at least for now.
Loyce Pace Bass is the Director of Health Policy at the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Stay tuned for updates throughout the week on Loyce’s travels and dialogue with our Africa partners.