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Professionalism and gentleness merge in northern Uganda refugee settlement

by Tyler Graf | Feb 09, 2018

Uganda, MAF partner - West Nile refugees, 2018 (1)
Representatives from Medical Teams International and Mission Aviation Fellowship pose in front of an MAF airplane in northern Uganda. Because of MAF's flights, health professionals from Medical Teams International can efficiently cover ground to serve refugees in need. 

By the time the Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot makes the announcement --"10 minutes to Moyo"-- the Ugandan landscape beneath the airplane has become a dense forest with barely any roads visible from above, just one or two isolated dirt tracks. As the flight nears its destination, the ground below is a vast expanse of semi-arid scrubland. 

At the Palorinya Refugee Settlement, doctors and nurses from Medical Teams International come to serve in three- to four-week stints, training local medical staff and treating patients. Medical Teams, our local staff, and the international volunteers rely on Mission Aviation Fellowship to fly between Uganda's capital Kampala and the northern airstrips serving refugee settlements, including Moyo. 

“The journey from Kampala to Moyo would take at least eight hours by overland travel," said Andrew Hoskins, Medical Teams' Uganda country director. "It’s just an hour and a half by aircraft.”

Hundreds of local doctors and nurses work for Medical Teams in the northern settlements, serving primarily refugees from South Sudan.

Medical Teams International provides health care to roughly one million South Sudanese refugees and local Ugandans in the northern reaches of the country. Every day the clinics are bustling with people patiently awaiting service, often with children in tow. While their faces show an outward disposition of weariness, the refugees speak highly of the passionate care they receive. They come for vaccinations, to deliver babies, to receive nutritional supplements, or for medicines to treat malaria. 

Of her experience in the refugee settlement, a Mission Aviation Fellowship visitor wrote about what she saw in the clinic:

A woman sitting on the ground with her baby was trying to breastfeed even though her tired body looked like just skin and bones. The baby had orange-colored hair, a tell-tale sign of malnourishment for an African baby. The mother had cataracts in both eyes and was barely able to see me. She relayed, with the help of a translator, that her husband was arrested and had disappeared near Kajo Keji in South Sudan. She has five children to provide for, but is unable to dig or plant because of her sight and depends on the emergency food allowance provided by UN's refugee agency. Her feverish baby was given the all-clear after having a blood test for malaria, and she was sent home with antibiotics for her little one. This woman’s situation will once again remind me never to complain. What do we know of the struggles the isolated and displaced face on a daily basis? And what would have happened to this woman and her children if Medical Teams hadn’t intervened?

Upon seeing Medical Teams' work in the Palorinya Settlement, Mission Aviation Fellowship said it "laid bare the diverse and pressing needs ... with impressive and encouraging levels of professionalism, gentleness and best practice in these most challenging of circumstances."

In northern Uganda, these challenges stem from the deeply vulnerable state of the South Sudanese refugees. Of the more than one million refugees and asylum-seekers in Uganda, 82 percent are women and children. They come to Uganda weak, hungry, and often sick. They've been scarred -- both physically and mentally -- by the experiences they've endured.

Once refugees reach Uganda, there are smaller threats -- unobservable to the naked eye, but dangerous nonetheless. Threats like unclean water, or a lack of nutritious food, or unhygienic living conditions. These are serious threats, and deceptively deadly in their simplicity. The challenge for Medical Teams International and partners like Mission Aviation Fellowship is to ensure that after refugees make their treacherous journeys -- slogging long miles under threat of violence -- they don't succumb to something as preventable as malaria or cholera.

Uganda, MAF partner - West Nile refugees, 2018 (54)
A Medical Teams nurse checks the blood pressure of a refugee at the Palorinya Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda.

Each day, there are thousands of success stories. But no one can do it alone in Uganda. Through the support of generous donors, Medical Teams International is committed to partnering, to seeking ways to maximize efficiency and provide loving health care to people in need. 

To learn more about how we're serving people in settlements throughout Uganda as the United Nation's main refugee health provider, visit our Uganda refugee page. Consider making a donation today and joining a partnership that's saving lives and renewing hope in the future.