Nick Laing

Medicine or magic sweets?

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People love medicines here, more than you’d expect. In 2003, the medical world debated whether free HIV medication would work. You literally have to take it every day, or else the HIV can become resistant to the drugs. We needn’t have worried. Most people here are great at taking medication – it seems to carry almost a mystical quality. People love injections the most, while working at Lacor I got asked multiple times “Can you just give me an injection doctor?”. Perhaps this drug shop in Lacor embodies how a lot of people feel about drugs here. Medicine or magic sweets?

On the Plane

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Its time. Are we ready? Well we’d better be because we are quite literally on the plane. As my late Opa would say, we’re “physically, spiritually and emotionally prepared” to head back to Uganda. That’s is a good place to be.

We’re so grateful for our time in New Zealand. Thank you to our families for love and seemingly endless generosity. Thank you to St Aiden’s, St Barnabas, Sumner, and our home church St Tims for taking us in and allowing us to be a part of you for a time. Thank you New Zealand for your hills, beaches and streams. We’ll miss you. And Thank you to God, who’s been in all of the above and more, refreshing us and guiding us to new ideas.

St Philip Hospital

For a long time now, Bishop Johnson of Northern Uganda held a vision for a hospital at the Anglican base. The building has been half built for a while, but there’s a long way to go, and the plan has stagnated. When I shared the situation in New Zealand, many people encouraged me to push for the much needed mini-hospital. The possibility of working as a doctor there, and helping set a mission culture there is also really exciting. Some individuals and churches have generously given already and my old school Christ’s College have generously offered to give half their lenten appeal to the project. We pray the building will come to fruition soon!

Relationship course

Our good friends Sam and Aloyo fell in love at 20 years old. Aloyo got pregnant too young, but they desperately wanted to make the relationship work for them and their kid. Yet after three years and many challenges including lack of work and living in different cities, they separated. This is be a recurrent story here, with relationships falling apart quickly, despite good intentions and the presence of the love of God and each other. God’s nudged us to see how we can work with young people too. We plan to adapt the Alpha marriage course, join with a couple who already have a good relationship, and see what we can do.

 

We send this update seven days after touching down. The last week has been full of energy and positive interactions. Jetlag is minimal, and work has started well (more on that soon). We went to Wednesday Bible study and it seems in better shape than we left it. Keep in touch, and we’ll put up some blog posts soon at www.ugandapanda.com!

 

Please pray for: 1) Our friend Isaac, who lost everything when his hut burnt down. We want to help him get a new computer which is the key to his livelihood – contact us if you’re keen to help. 2) Tessa’s community organising group “Wakonye Kenwa,” as their activity ramps up again 3) The youth at our church St Catherine’s. Something special seems to be happening, with lots of new young people and a great energy.

Mango Hunting in Uganda

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Here’s a video from last year made by Nick Laing in Uganda. Though this video isn’t particularly serious in tone, it actually captures a large part of what serious mission is all about: building real relationships with real people. In fact, though programmes are important and have their place, sometimes the most fruitful moments are found in the midst of everyday life. The video also gives us a glimpse of the area Nick & Tessa are living.

(Nick does apologise for his singing, which he describes as sounding like a “tone-deaf 5 year old.”)

 

Training in the Clinics

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After a month of working in St. Philip health centre, Tash, a British nurse is training staff at all our clinics. What she’s doing is inspiring! (Below is from her facebook post).

“Yesterday I visited this clinic. It’s a 1.5 hour drive down a bumpy, scorched dirt road to the middle of what feels like nowhere. My driver Anthony was telling me only 15 years ago this area was controlled by the LRA for training (he met his now wife, as she fled from this area to Gulu). And now I’m visiting the nurse run clinic and putting my little laminated flow charts on the walls. Definitely puts things in perspective. I’m excited to see how things progress in the future (probably with more laminated flow charts to be sure!)”.

 

For more from Nick and Tessa Laing visit their blog at Ugandapanda.com

Ugandan Caterpillars

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An interesting part of cross-cultural, overseas mission is learning more and more about your surroundings. In this video Nick Laing shares something he discovered in their backyard. Not only do we get to learn a little about the critters in their backyard, but we also get to know Nick a little more!

If you have kids (or grandkids) why not share this video with them?

Tessa and the Radio

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“I don’t have a job” “Why?” “Because I drunk so much when I was younger I never got an education!”

Recently four ex heavy drinkers from Tessa’s group, Wakonye Kenwa, shared their stories on Mega FM, the most popular radio station in Northern Uganda. It was the first of a three part series to garner support for Wakonye Kenya’s latest endeavour, and massive dream: a law which would ban the cheapest, strongest and most popular form of alcohol. Small plastic packets of Alcohol, called ‘sachets’

Tessa’s work is going really well. After taking upon the mammoth task of embarking on creating a new law, her group has moved forward at a rate of knots. The group has a real sense of community and purpose which is driving them forward. Meetings are very social and the group is starting to believe they can do great things. They’ve already got thousands of signatures on a petition to ban the packets (aiming for 5000, I think they’ll reach 10000), a Ugandan NGO has agreed to fund all the group’s transport and phone calls, and the local government has agreed to draft the law and put it in front of the council for voting. Everything is moving remarkably smoothly at the moment. The inevitable challenges from the industry and business will come when the law looks like it might actually happen.

 

For more from Nick and Tessa in Uganda, visit UgandaPanda.com

The Malaria Epidemic

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A few weeks, I gave a pregnant staff member a call.

“How are you, and how’s the baby?” “I’m not so good, I’m due to give birth next week but I’ve got malaria and I’m really sick”

When I first came to Northern Uganda, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Yes, malaria was around, but in my year working at Lacor Hospital I only saw one person die from it on the adult ward. When I started my current job co-ordinating the anglican health centres, out of every ten malaria tests only one would be positive.

In May this year, everything changed. I remember getting a call from one of our health centres “Doctor, Doctor we’re going to run out of malaria drugs tomorrow at the health centre”

“Oh dear. But you ordered enough for five months just two months ago!” “Yes we did, but now they’re gone” “Ah…       OK, we’ll see what we can do”

Malaria went from a minor problem to a monster in about three weeks, and then kept getting worse. All our friends, even two mzungu (white) friends started getting malaria. One of our health centres treated over 600 patients for malaria in June. The number of patients visiting our health centres doubled. Lacor’s children ward was full with two  children on some beds for the first time in five years. An epidemic was declared two months too late, and extra training and help on Malaria only happened at the end of last month after the epidemic was already subsiding. Luckily with a lot of yelling down the phone we managed to get an emergency order of malaria drugs, with a couple of our health centers going only a day or two without drugs.

The obvious question, “why an epidemic now?” may have a very simple answer. For the last five years there’s been a comprehensive indoor mosquito-slaughter spraying program, with the inside of nearly every home in Northern Uganda sprayed with a safe insecticide. This was wildly successful, with malaria prevalence plummeting. This slightly ironic article “Using indoor residual spraying to win a battle against malaria” was written only this year. The children’s ward at Lacor saw a 90% reduction in malaria cases from 2009 to 2014, before skyrocketing from May to July this year.

The World Health Organisation has ruled out more spraying, apparently because it is too expensive and not sustainable at 6-8 US dollars a household. I reckon we could do it for $4 a household but that’s beside the point. So what’s the plan now?

The ethics of the whole thing are mind boggling. Could things be worse now than before as people have lost their resistance to malaria built up over years? Could their be some other rebound mechanism post-spray causing the overwhelming number of cases? How much is a life worth? Is there a solution? Is this someone’s fault? Who’s responsible? Does anyone not in Northern Uganda really care?

People are saying the fresh rains in October could lead to another epidemic. Pray no.

For more from Nick and Tessa Laing in Uganda, visit UgandaPanda.com

A new home for Nick and Tessa

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We are incredibly fortunate, if a little sheepish with even a spattering of guilt that we’ve had the chance to be a part of building our own home. It was never something we planned to do, and I doubt very much that we’ll get the chance to do it again. The big hut is finished, and we remain only with finishing touches (curtains, pictures on the wall, etc.). Its a round hut, so orientating yourself shouldn’t be too hard!

We’re delighted that our friends from near our old house are still keen to hang out with us.

 

To see how Nick and Tessa’s new home was built, click here.

Wakonye Kenwa – Water

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We glided down the hill on our ‘lelas’ (bicycles) until the suburbia morphed into farmland. We arrived to witness a special moment for Tessa and the ‘Wakonye Kenwa’ community group based at St Catherine’s church: the drilling of the first borehole! We were greeted cheerfully by Omia Sophia, who had already been there for 5 hours since 7:30am in the morning. “I wanted to make sure they drilled the full 50 meters deep they promised, and put down all 15 pipes. They are onto number 14!”

This borehole could be described as a ‘bonus,’ as it was somewhat unexpected. A long time ago the hospital built a sewage treatment pond behind the hospital, which unfortunately ruined the groundwater. Its hard to blame the hospital – the pond was built when over ten thousand people were using the hospital as a refuge and they needed somewhere to put the sewage. Many years back, the hospital pledged to drill a new borehole in the area to replace the contaminated water. Unfortunately, talks between the community and the hospital broke down, and the promise was lost in the winds of time.

Wakonye Kenwa worked with local leaders to revive the negotiations and start mending the soured relationship. The hospital acted fast, and a few weeks later the borehole was drilled! The area isn’t quite where the worst water shortage is, but Wakonye Kenwa has convinced the local government to meet that need with another borehole – so watch this space.

 

For more about Nick & Tessa Laing and the work they are part of in Uganda click here.

Not just another day at the office

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Sometimes, a day at work here astonishes me. On one fateful day last week the wonderful people that called on the Lacor outpatient stretched my head and emotions in so many directions, by the end of the day I was wondering if it was some form of daydream. Out of the 30 patients seen that day, here’s a little bit about 10 of them.

1)      Skin diseases are the bane of most doctors, especially inexperienced ones. If something’s wrong with the heart or lungs, I can manage. The skin on the other hand… What are these spots that were all over her body?

2)      As soon as this 7 year old girl walked in, I had my heart in my mouth. I’d only ever seen Sydenham’s Chorea before on videos. Two weeks of strange, involuntary faux break dancing movements was enough to drive her mother spare. Luckily, her heart was OK and the involuntary movements will most likely gradually get better!

3)      The next woman has “Foamy macrophages” in her spleen (apparently). Having no idea what this means, I picture a huge pink foamy sponge in the bath. Not helpful for the patient!

4)      The lovely old woman smiled at me as she handed me her bone marrow sample result. Like many samples it definitely showed cancer, but couldn’t say whether it was Lymphoma or Leukemia. It was fair enough that she didn’t understand why the clever doctors couldn’t figure it out after sticking a massive needle into her bone. We’re going to send the sample to Italy where hopefully they can shed more light.

5)      “Benign hepatoma” was the ultrasound result from a small hospital. It seemed a bit fishy so we took a sample from his liver – He came back today with the heartsinking result – “Hepatocellular Carinoma”, universally fatal here. Discussing terminal illness is hard enough in your mother tongue…

6)      The next healthy looking girl came in dragging her right leg. Two days ago ago she suddenly developed a splitting headache and then gradually started losing movement in her right side. Amazingly she could find the 200,000 needed for a brain scan in the capital, so I shipped her out quicksmart. Some things even Lacor can’t handle!

7)      Next was a lovely old man who had forgotten his insulin for a week. He was looking very well but his blood sugar was unrecordably high. After having a talk with him about the importance of not missing a week, we kept him in overnight to be safe.

8)      Often tragedy is unexpected. One 25 year old guy had a few episodes of swelling in his face and legs over the last year or so. After testing his kidneys over a one month period, we now have to communicate that he is dying of kidney failure, Dialysis is impossible, transplant costs an unfathomable amount. He asks me how long he has got left. How do I answer that?

9)      The next woman who came in had a heart trying far too hard hard – I could see it pumping from a mile away. I made the mistake of making her lie down at which point she went blue and nearly passed out.

10)   The last patient of the day was a near case of Doctor error. There was nothing much wrong with the guy, seriously – he just had a dry cough for 3 weeks! I asked him to try and cough something up with us, and my awesome diagnosis of “likely benign cough” (facepalm), made way for Tuberculosis! Sometimes it does pay to be cautious – not my strongest suit it must be said.

For more from Nick and Tessa visit UgandaPanda.com