Thursday, June 29, 2017

One Month in Uganda

Today marks one month in Uganda! These past four weeks have been filled with a lot of learning, walking, and nearly 50 patient and provider surveys. Our research team is focused on exploring the understandings of human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer in Bushenyi District. Our goals also include identifying barriers patients and healthcare providers face in terms of accessibility to HPV vaccination and cervical cancer treatment. Though at first it may sound arbitrary to focus on cervical cancer in a region where diseases such as HIV/AIDs, typhoid, and malaria are rampant, the impact of cervical cancer is tremendous. In this region of the world, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women, and its survival rate is only 21%. While we are still collecting data to help us understand why this is true, I think it’s safe to say that one of the reasons the survival rate is so low is that there is only one place in the entire country (Mulago Referral Hospital) to get radiotherapy. This single machine has not been functional for over a year. For patients, this means that they must come up with enough money to travel out of the country and continue to pay for living expenses while receiving treatment outside of Uganda.

We have traveled to a number of different health centers, both public and private, to speak with patients and providers about HPV and cervical cancer. These conversations have been the highlight of my time here so far. I’ve included a few pictures below taken with some of the healthcare workers I interviewed.

As I’ve been reflecting on my time here, there have also been some cultural differences in regards to time that have required some adaptability and understanding. For example, I am very much a planner and prefer to have my appointments for the coming weeks confirmed in advance. However, that’s not how things work best here. If we want to schedule an interview with a provider, it’s best to call them just a few hours before or simply show up to their workplace. If you try and schedule something too far in advance, it’s likely that the meeting will not happen. Additionally, things run on Ugandan Time. When scheduling to meet someone, it’s basically implied that the meeting will not take place at the set time, and you’re often left waiting for them to arrive. Due to these differences, I am learning to become a more patient person, and I hope that this trait will continue to develop throughout the summer.

Overall, this experience has been so enlightening, and I’m looking forward to what the next 5 weeks hold!

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