Dr. Henry Reitzug of Puyallup, a member of the board of directors of Lakewood’s Northwest Commercial Bank, is on a mission to Darfur, Sudan, as part of Tearfund, a leading relief and development charity, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches worldwide. Dr. Reitzug has been sending his observations of the country and people and we are reprinting them (in a series) with his permission. Read the other installments (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 9 pm – Lira, northern Uganda
Little Innocent (that, and Solomon are the two most common names I have encountered the last two days) is a 2-year old. He weighs only 4 pounds more than my newest grandson James Reitzug (born last Saturday, my sixth grandchild; do you detect a note of pride?). Little Innocent’s mother tells my interpreter that he has had bloody diarrhea and fevers for some time. She is vague on the time. I note that his skin does not have the usual healthy sheen, in fact, it hangs from his little arms and legs and has multiple lesions, his mouth has thrush, and his abdomen is sunken. His head seems disproportionately large compared to his wasted body, his eyes even more so compared to his head. They seem lifeless. He is ill; chronically ill.
A few carefully worded questions, translated by the interpreter in a conspiratorial whisper, reveals that the father of the child is HIV positive, the mother has not determined her ‘status’ yet. This means that the child did not have the benefit of the potential protection of prenatal anti-retroviral drugs (anti-AIDS drugs). Her lowered voice and lowered eyes suggest she knows what her ‘status’ is, as well as that of her child. Even at 11% prevalence in the population, in spite of huge health education campaigns, and programs to mitigate the effects for those positive for it, HIV stills carries a stigma and a lethal tendency for denial in Uganda.
Little Innocent was referred from our Mobile Medical Unit in Walela (a community where we worked out of our mobile tents yesterday) to the hospital in Lira, an hour by bad road – they all are – for HIV testing, which will almost certainly reveal his unfortunate ‘status’.
Rosina is 16 months old, has orange hair ‚Äì a sign often seen in malnutrition ‚Äì and has severe swelling of both feet, ankles, lower legs, and even her hands. It is called nutritional edema. Like many children in Darfur, but unlike most in Uganda, she has severe malnutrition. Where is the nearest Nutrition Program in Uganda?
Kennedy, a one-month old, has all the symptoms and findings suggestive of malaria, very common right now because there has been some rain. She also has a heart murmur suggestive of Tetralogy of Fallot, a diagnosis that is likely to cause some problems later in the of first year life. And where do I get help for that in Uganda?
Doctor David, my extremely knowledgeable and likeable young friend and colleague, answers these and all my other questions. He was part of the program in 2005 and I really looked forward to working with him. He is local, knows seemingly everything about tropical medicine, and loves the people and God. It has been a blessing to work with him, talk shop with, and enjoy some meals together. He has a new little one named Victor.
I am back in Uganda now, practicing tropical medicine, over 110 patients each of the last two days, in communities located deep in the bush. Unlike 3 years ago when I was here, there is peace now, the refugee camps in the Lira district have all been torn down, people have been restored to their land, and the roads, with deep flash-flood ruts, pot-holes which turn to hot tubs when they fill with tropical rain, and dense vegetation crowding an already narrow track, are lined with tall corn, dense crops of soy beans, and other plants that this non-farmer cannot identify. But the people are farming, and they appear hopeful and happy, and they walk with a purpose.
Some of the first crops since returning to the land are getting harvested. The desperate poverty of camp-life, the total dependence on aid, the indolence of nothing to toil for has all been replaced with an energetic enthusiasm for the land. They are plowing it with crude tools, with occasional help from oxen, and they are all out in the fields doing their part, even the little Solomons and Innocents.
Once congregated in densely packed camps, the people are now spread out in the country-side, deep in the bush, unfortunately farther away from their water supply than before. And when you have to carry water several miles in 5 gallon cans on your head (40 pounds), you don’t waste it on bathing. This has resulted in a very fragrant medical tent and most people bringing their own flies along with the aroma. Even the flies get ornery by mid-afternoon.
But this is Uganda, it is Uganda-green here, not Darfur-brown, life is peaceful without gunshots. In the yard of the Volunteer House where I am staying ‚Äì well stocked fridge, very nice by Uganda standards, spoiled by my recent standards – I heard a nearby church’s worship service this evening, and there is open, unabashed, proclamation of your beliefs here. No worries mate, as my UK hosts in Darfur would say. Felix my host is very solicitous, and although I am alone in the Volunteer House, he has made sure I did not eat alone two of the three nights I have been here. There is a guard for the compound. He stays all night and remembers me; I gave him my flashlight and talked to him every day when I was here three years ago. I brought an extra one to give him for this time and he loves it like a new toy. I also brought extra batteries.
Tomorrow Felix and I will drive two hours north to Pader, another part of the project. We will visit the program there, no doubt I will see a ‘few’ patients, and we will stay there overnight. On Thursday we will return. Friday is the end of their fiscal year and will be a day of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving for all the project members, with a big feast for all them in the evening. Saturday it will be back to Kampala, a 6 or 7 hour journey over some of the most miserable roads I have ever traveled on. Sunday starts with a 2 am trip to the airport (4 pm Saturday at home). 31 hours later I arrive in Seattle.
After seeing much struggle and enormous logistics efforts to feed two and half million refugees in a land that reeks of evil and is choked in fear, it is rewarding to work in a community building effort where people are returning to the land, medical care is given along with healthcare advice, counseling by a pastor who also proclaims the word of God, and water and sanitation issues are addressed with an eye to preventing the worst of the diseases. There is a long way to go here, but I feel urged to thank God for what He has done, and pray for what still needs to be done.