Decent healthcare is a real struggle for most people in Uganda. When it comes to treatment for basic things, a “local clinic” can be okay, but when it comes to complex issues, they are not. One of our Aggie’s Arts Banda Artisan ladies, Mary Ondoro (above), has suffered with joint pain for a number of years. Recently, it began to flare up so badly that she has become almost totally confined to her house. She has been absent from Banda Artisan meetings, house church, and craft purchase days (her teenage children would bring them for her, and are in fact making them for her now). We discovered that Mary had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA – a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease) and was receiving treatment at a local clinic. We realized that if she did have RA, it was going to be very serious. This wouldn’t be something that would just go away with simple treatment – it would be something she would have to deal with for the rest of her life. How is she going to manage that? That’s a good question, and one we have also been asking ourselves.
It’s this type of situation that gives us the motivation to further develop things here…and concurrently to ask God for wisdom and guidance. This is actually how Aggie’s Arts has grown over the years. Right now we are working on coming up with a “method” for helping the Banda Artisan ladies when they encounter financial crises – things that are clearly beyond their means but are critical to the livelihood and/or health of themselves & families. Reoccurring issues have come to light as we have worked with the ladies & their families over the years. One of these is exam fees for children in “candidate” classes (years 7, 10 and 12), where if the child doesn’t take the exams, they can’t progress to the next year (a story for another time). Another crisis is obviously good healthcare. One of our ladies, Sylvia, had a goiter; Aggie’s Arts was able to help her to have it removed (she’s now a different woman!). One of the sons of Christine, another of our ladies, desperately needed to have an operation which she couldn’t afford; Aggie’s Arts was in a position to help. This has been good, but has also been kind of “piecemeal” and case-by-case, which has been labor intensive for us and also consumes precious time in working out how to handle the situation; we would prefer to be better prepared for future crises – to have a plan-of-attack in place. This is a currently a work in progress.
Meanwhile, Mary Ondoro’s local clinic treatment included a steroid shot every 2 weeks, with no medicines that would attempt to get her RA (if she has it) into remission. She clearly needed to see a specialist, be correctly diagnosed, and receive the correct medicines. Last week, Aggie’s Arts paid for us to take her to a Rheumatologist, who was quick to point out that a steroid shot should be given a very limited number of times (only 3 shots per year, according to him!). My goodness! This is the nature of poor healthcare. Poor Mary – he said that her muscles had wasted away due to all the steroid shots & she should stop them immediately. He then went on to spend significant time with us, asking Mary (and Aggie and one of the group leaders, Susan) many questions and examined her joints. He believes Mary very likely has RA, but needs blood tests to be sure. Aggie’s Arts paid for these blood tests (one which needed to be sent to South Africa) and the results are now ready for us to pick up and take back to him next week for Mary’s 2nd appointment (which Aggie’s Arts is also paying for!). We were also able to purchase some preliminary medicines for Mary, again purchased by Aggie’s Arts. Mary was so grateful – I think she is seeing light at the end of the tunnel, as far as both her healthcare goes…and potential for relief from her pain.
For the future (including Mary’s), we need to come up with a way that the Banda Artisan ladies can be empowered to handle their crises well, with help that doesn’t cripple or disempower them. In the case of healthcare, one way to do this might be for Aggie’s Arts to pay a portion of their medical expenses (for example, 50%), and then lend them the other 50%, which they would pay back through extra crafts purchases by Aggie’s Arts, over a period of time; that way they will still “own” their healthcare. Stay tuned! Also stay tuned for news about Mary Ondoro (keep an eye on the Aggie’s Arts Facebook page). Thanks for reading – Simon.