The most common childhood illnesses in Uganda are malaria, diarrheal diseases, cold, and flu. However, rather than focusing on the underlying medical reasons of these illnesses, it interested us to learn about social and cultural factors that affect childhood health. We discovered that the two of the major determinants of childhood health are poor hospital conditions and slow/nonexistent parental response.
When we visited the children’s ward at Kalisizo hospital we observed that conditions in the hospital were not ideal for a comfortable recovery for an ill child. On first look, we noticed long queues, overcrowding, and a lack of beds (we noticed two children sharing one bed which results in the potential for cross-contamination). A nurse at the hospital also informed us that a shortage of drugs and understaffing were common challenges. After speaking to our Makerere University Professor and the father of one of our homestay families who works as a laboratory technician at a Rakai health center, we discovered that another common challenge is apathy among healthcare workers.
In addition to poor hospital conditions, another factor that affects a child’s health is slow or nonexistent parental response to childhood illness. Two common sites to seek care when a child is sick are traditional herbalists (witch doctors) and the local health center. Parents will choose to bring a child to a traditional herbalist due to culture, long travel times to the health center from their home, and the expected long wait times at the hospital. For some families it may take over an hour to walk to the nearest health center and in addition, once arriving, parents may wait up to five hours to receive care. We also learned from the parents we interviewed that although both parents are responsible for the child’s health, mothers tend to be more directly involved than fathers. Mothers are typically responsible for bringing the child to the health center whereas fathers are responsible for the financial aspect of the child’s illness.