On any given day, most would not think twice about the accessibility to over-the-counter medicine for a headache or a visit to the doctor for a fever. For many parts of the world, access to any healthcare is a challenge, especially end-of-life care. The Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU) is focused on expanding access to palliative and hospice care to all in Uganda. PCAU also encourages us to think about our own privileges, be thankful for them, and consider those who are not so fortunate.
Palliative care focuses on the treatment of patients who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses and relief for their families. PCAU specifically focuses on patients in Uganda who have little to no access to health care. This limited accessibility puts emotional and physical stress on the suffering patients as well as their families.
Center for Hospice Care, based in Mishawaka, reached out to PCAU 10 years ago, hoping to affiliate themselves in this global cause. Once ties were made, the connection bloomed into a fruitful partnership. The partnership is celebrated through a very special event—Okyuamba Fest. Okuyamba is the Luganda word for “Help.”
This year marks 10 years of growth and support within this relationship. The Okuyamba Fest was held at Center for Hospice Care's Mishawaka Campus on July 31.
Mike Wargo, Chief Operating Officer of the Hospice Foundation (the supporting foundation for Center of Hospice Care) spoke to the positive contributions of the partnership.
“We started working with PCAU when palliative care was only available in 34 of the 112 districts of Uganda,” Wargo said. “Now it is available in 97 of those districts. We’ve provided the funding and support for 60 nurses to go through the clinical palliative care diploma program so they can become prescribers, which has helped them get palliative care into so many districts over that period of time.”
Rose Kiwanuka, the Country Director and the creator of PCAU, attended the celebration and gave a heart-warming speech about the partnership’s growth.
“It all started in 2008—I remember them calling me; I was the only employee in the organization,” Kiwanuka said. “They told me I have been partnered with Hospice in Indiana. Mark Murray [President/CEO of Center for Hospice Care,] thank you for buying into the vision and thank you for studying it.”
Kiwanuka credited Center for Hospice Care in helping forge PCAU’s path.
“The partnership has made PCAU visible,” Kiwanuka said. “You improved our visibility. It is the most successful partnership I’ve seen globally. We have learned from each other and become brothers and sisters.”
A special performance by Uzima, a dance troupe based in the area, guided the celebration inside. As they performed, the spirit of African culture spread throughout the room through the power of dance and drum beats. Men and women of all ages waved vibrantly colored flags while dancing to the beat and encouraged the crowd to do the same. Soon enough, the entire room was dancing, singing, and clapping along.
“This is a good way to represent the culture I come from,” said Tawonga Katundu, a member of Uzima. “It gives an accurate representation, instead of what you see on TV. It’s a rich culture that you can share with everyone.”
During the festival, food and drink was shared alongside passionate conversation about the cause. A silent auction was held to support PCAU; its items included authentic Ugandan artifacts.
Michael Ssemwanga’s passion for PCAU hits close to home, as his homeland is Uganda. Ssemwanga owns Entech Solutions, a successful IT business in South Bend.
“When you look at hospice care, the people at the end of life, you see they need a comfortable life,” Ssemwanga said. “We all have parents. We always grow, we keep growing. We know our parents are going to get there before us. But we need to support this cause because they [our parents] knit the actual fabric of our life!”
“I am a big believer that we have, in our country, everything we need to succeed; it’s just a matter of taking opportunities that are presented and asking to help along the way,” Wargo added.“We are helping people whose circumstances are not anything like ours. People who live in extreme poverty, or people who have no access to health care or education. Though they are oftentimes very happy, the difficulty is when they get sick, there is nothing to help them get better. The only thing we can really do is help relieve the suffering they are experiencing.”
The PCAU and Center for Hospice Care’s partnership is only expanding. While always displaying the reality of circumstances regarding healthcare around the world, the organizations provide an opportunity for members in the community to reach out and make a difference.