Yesterday was our first full day, and after sleeping late to catch up from the trip we visited the hospital where we will be working, so that my Canadian colleague could receive a bit of an orientation. As we walked through the wards I could sense that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. We stood on the infectious diseases ward, which, as always, was filled to bursting with patients and their families, the overwhelming majority of whom are suffering from complications of HIV infection. I found myself thinking back to my first visits to this hospital, when these same patients would have had no hope of accessing anti-retroviral treatment. In just ten years an entire infrastructure of health care delivery has evolved here, so that today in Uganda over 200,000 people are on treatment, representing about 40% of the estimated need.
Standing on that ward I saw clear progress; my colleague saw something very different. Several patients lie in the main entrance way to the ward, in obviously poor condition, receiving supplemental oxygen. My friend recognized that these individuals, all young, all with concerned family at their bedside, were likely dying. He recognized as well that for each of these patients, treatment existed that could have prevented their illness from becoming so advanced. He asked our Ugandan host what would happen to these people; would they be transferred to the ICU? The answer left him visibly shaken; the ICU was full, accessing it was difficult, and these patients’ cases were seen as too advanced. They would die on the ward.
While I saw the impressive progress that has been made in HIV treatment over ten years, my colleague saw with fresh eyes the realities of life for the 60% of Ugandans in need that are NOT on treatment – largely for the lack of funds. And with fresh eyes he reminded me of how utterly unacceptable this is. That is why I Give a Day.