Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC), Uganda
Summer Entrepreneurial Internships
This summer, I traveled to Uganda to spend eight weeks working with the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC). I lived and worked in the rural village of Bududa, located about an hour and a half away from the nearest town. Going into my summer, I was looking forward to an exciting and unique experience, and was especially interested in further exploring my passion for both medicine and public health. My public health internship last summer opened my eyes to the importance and value of global health, yet I wanted the opportunity to work alongside the people I was serving, rather than in an office building thousands of miles away. During my internship with FIMRC, I spent my time assisting at the clinic, conducting outreach in the surrounding areas, and working on personal projects to help the clinic and the community. In a given day working at the clinic, I would take and record vitals of incoming patients, assist the lab in running STI, malaria, HIV, and other tests, or scribe for clinicians who were seeing patients. I also enjoyed helping out in the Maternal and Child Health Center, where I could assist in prenatal examinations, finding the baby’s positioning and heart rate, or help give immunizations or supplements to babies or expectant mothers.
One of the highlights of my internship was the outreach we conducted multiple times a week, when I hiked into the surrounding mountains to educate or help the people who lived there. Many of these outreaches were health education, and could include hiking with a midwife to expectant mothers to tell them to come down to the clinic for a safer delivery, traveling with an educator to a school to teach children about proper sanitation habits, or going with a community leader to a local microfinance group to teach about goal setting and smart money habits. We also hiked to immunize babies, and give them vitamin A and deworming tablets. I greatly enjoyed the outreaches because they had such a large impact on the communities by reaching out to those members of society who would normally never be reached. By teaching a group of people sexual health, or a class of children about the importance of mosquito nets and going to the clinic at the first signs of sickness, we could prevent dozens of cases of STIs, unwanted pregnancy, or severe malaria, which has a huge impact on the community.
I also worked on a personal project for the Maternal and Child Health Center. Mothers have a low rate of attendance at early prenatal appointments, and the clinic was looking for ways to increase the attendance. Last summer, one of my projects during my internship at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was looking to bring folic acid food fortification to Haryana, India. Without an adequate amount of folic acid during the first three months of pregnancy, babies are at risk for neural tube defects including spina bifida and anencephaly. While the food in Bududa has no folic acid fortification, mothers are given folic acid during their early prenatal visits, but due to the lack of attendance at these visits, the midwives I worked with cited folic acid deficiencies as a problem in the community. I researched, designed and created an informational poster drawn on a rice sack that could be taken on future outreaches, so that when future volunteers and midwives give health education, they will present the information I provided about the dangers of a folic acid deficiency in pregnancy to encourage women to come for those early prenatal appointments. While it was frustrating to see women dealing with a problem that people in other parts of the world do not have to think about, I enjoyed trying to adapt the work that I did previously in an office in Atlanta to hands-on, more personal work, hopefully creating a better-educated and healthier community.
I greatly enjoyed my time in Uganda. I gained clinical experience, learned to take vitals, prepare lab samples, scribe for clinicians, perform an antenatal exam, and connected with incredible people who had vastly different backgrounds from mine. While I did fully connect with the culture, learn from the people I came to serve, and gain an understanding that we are all more alike than different, I also had witnessed heartbreaking circumstances that left me knowing people out there do desperately need help, and organizations and individuals must continue to push for public health and widespread education so all people can have a standard quality of life. One particular situation stands out to me, which took place during my last week of my internship. An ongoing outreach during the summer was to go visit the children within a few mile radius who were known to be living with HIV, checking in on them and giving them a psychosocial assessment to make sure they are still taking their medicine, going to school, and in overall good spirits.
The last house we visited was to see a brother and sister. I interviewed the brother first, and noted he was enjoying school, was taking his medication, and had many close friends. I then went on to his younger sister, but she began to cry before she could answer a single question. It turns out, a few months ago, her brother stopped taking his HIV medicine and became very sick. When asked why he was not taking the drugs, her brother replied that he had no food to eat, and the strong medicine caused intense pain and nausea on an empty stomach. Horrified that the boy would go days without a proper meal, and thus without his life-saving medication, FIMRC began paying for him to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a local restaurant every day. The sister, however, was still taking her HIV medicine even on an empty stomach, suffering from the intense nausea while also in a state of mild starvation from the lack of food. She was crying, asking us why she watched her brother eat three meals a day while she got nothing. It was a heartbreaking situation to witness, to know that an eight-year-old child had to go through such pain, and even that she could somehow be seen as ‘lucky,’ with access to free HIV medicine and resources to go on the same food plan as her brother, where many other children may not have access to either. People in every corner of the world should have access to proper health education and clinical resources, and I am thankful for my experience with FIMRC for allowing me to serve in an underprivileged community I have learned to love.