Sunday, September 26, 2010

Makerere University Scientific Symposium

A busy week, but one of the best so far!

I spent most of the week at the 6th annual Makerere University College of Health Sciences Scientific Symposium. There were lots of great presentations from researchers, students, and NGO workers from around Uganda, as well as a few pretty dismal reviews of topics such as the scientific basis of reflexology (NONE) and whether 'speaking in tongues' is associated with hysteria (seriously??). My favorite presentations (besides UVP's of course) were during the session on medical education at the end of the conference.

Uganda Village Project staff members gave presentations on our surgical referral networks, village health teams, sanitation campaigns, and recommendations for international volunteer programs. I was hoping that the conference would be an opportunity for UVP staff to share some of their experience with others, raise UVP's profile in the country, and network with faculty and students from Makerere (for our internship program). We succeeded at the first two objectives, but because there were fewer students at the conference this year compared to past years, I wasn't as happy with our ability to network. I hope that next year the conference has enough money to better subsidize students, who should be one of the main audiences for the conference.

On Friday afternoon, I gave a presentation about health and human rights education in the US. My goal was to share some of the PHR student program's experiences in this area, and to start a conversation with students and faculty about incorporating health and human rights education into the health professional school curricula in Uganda. Given the situation with student attendance I describe above, I was pretty nervous by lunchtime Friday that I'd be speaking to a room full of chairs.

However, much to my delight, the presentation was pretty well attended (thanks to being just before the closing keynote), and lots of Makerere faculty members, health workers, and even the WHO Special Representative to Uganda came up to me afterward to trade contact information and share their perspective on health and human rights education.

One of the most inspiring conversations I had was with a health promoter from Pallisa district who shared stories of patients dying because doctors and nurses wouldn't treat them without getting paid first. She noted indignantly, "This is a human rights issue! These people do not need to die!". Bingo.

Several of the health workers from various parts of the country invited me out to their districts to see what's going on where they work. I really hope I get a chance to take them up on these generous offers.

Random Notes:
- Went to an amazing Thai restaurant in Kampala which can actually make green curry, pad thai, and tom kha. Ate there twice this week.
- Bought a helmet for my boda-boda rides. Very, very happy about this, partly because I'll be safer and partly because I won't show up to work with a thick layer of red dust on my face anymore.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I'm still nesting. Brandon and I moved into an apartment a few weeks ago, but it's taken some time for me to fully unpack, get organized, and make the place feel more like a home. Since this apartment is probably the nicest place I've ever lived besides my parents' house, I'm not complaining too much. I bought a couple of paintings late last week, which gave the place a bit of color and personality.

My room

My room


Living room

Dining room

Also, in terms of settling in, I got an office at the JCRC Mengo campus today. Though I enjoy having the flexibility to work from home, internet cafes, or various places at Mulago, I'm looking forward to having a particular place to sit and do work every day. I'm also hoping that it pushes me to work a bit more, rather than getting caught up in watching more 'Mad Men' episodes. Now, I just need to be able to find a few boda drivers that don't get lost on the way to the JCRC from Kamwokya.

In terms of my research work on HIV in older adults, I have lots of ideas, but actually putting together a dataset that makes some sense is proving to be a quite a challenge, as I should have anticipated. Nothing insurmountable, I think, and in a sense, figuring out how to overcome that challenge is the whole point of this year anyways. My PI from the US comes into town later this week, and I'm looking forward to getting his perspective on some of the ideas I've been working on.

One of the highlights of last week was an advocacy training for HIV/AIDS activists on how to use the upcoming elections to secure commitments from potential lawmakers. There were lots of similarities with the birddogging/advocacy training sessions that Health GAP  and AMSA activists hold in the US, so it was really cool to see what resonated with activists here, what needed to be adapted, the differences in barriers to effective birddogging, etc. It was also really nice to spend a day with advocacy-oriented people. With all my research work, I miss having friends and colleagues around who have that particular streak of vibrancy, set of priorities, and grounded perspective.

Another big part of last week was trying to figure out how to digitize documents in the Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MUCHS) Library. I'm interested in the project in order to make the knowledge generated by scholars here available to students, faculty, and researchers in Uganda and around the world. Makerere is one of the preeminent centers of medical education in Africa, so this is a pretty serious amount of knowledge that's lying unused and largely inaccessible. The project is currently facing a major hurdle: all of the theses are bound, and they only have access to one flat-bed scanner. Almost a dozen people back home have been helping me get in touch with people who have experience in this field, and all of those contacts have been very helpful so far. I'm getting a better idea of what we'll need to do/build to speed up the scanning process. Now I've got to convince people/organizations to help me find the equipment or money to buy equipment (probably around $500-$800).

Oh, and I went to The Royal Ascot Goat Races, and sat in the VIP section, thanks to some friends (and friends of friends).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Non-work related things: Football, Entebbe, Sipi

Work stuff is still slowly picking up steam. Drafted some proposals, thinking about some other ones, reaching out to friends and mentors here and elsewhere for thoughts/critiques on said proposals (thanks everyone!). I'm hoping something makes sense to other scientists and that we're able to get some good work done this year.

But, I haven't only been doing work here. Last weekend I went to the Uganda vs. Angola football (soccer) match at Nelson Mandela Stadium. The Ugandan fans were out in force, and President Museveni even made an appearance. We won 3-0, and will go on to face Kenya in the next match for the African Cup of Nationals qualifiers.

Uganda vs. Angola

Fellow football enthusiasts at the match

Last Sunday, I went to Entebbe to check out the botanical gardens, zoo, and Lake Victoria.

Entebbe Botanical Garden

Entebbe Zoo

Then, this weekend, I took advantage of the Eid holiday to spend a few days near Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda. It was good to get out of the city for a bit to clear my mind. When I went to Sipi in 2005, I hiked to the last of the three waterfalls; this time I went to all three, which was a much better experience. You can abseil alongside the third, 100 meter-high drop, but after one of my hiking companions discussed the finer points of not slamming into the wall while abseiling, I decided to try it next time.

The top waterfall at Sipi Falls

Third waterfall at Sipi Falls

On Saturday afternoon, a gin and tonic kept me company while I read the day's paper. I leafed through page after page of articles about the latest election intrigue and violence. On page 6, there was a small line reminding me that it was September 11, and that nine years ago, many things for many people changed for the worse. I looked out at Sipi Falls, the acres of farms surrounding it, and the rain clouds over me, and was struck by how much had changed here and elsewhere in the last nine years. And how much things had stayed the same. No conclusions, no epiphanies. Just a deep feeling of melancholy about what might have been. 

The clouds broke over the ridge and the blue sky reminded me that our best moments often come on the September 12ths of our lives.

Sipi Falls at sunset