Mary is 75 years old and lives in a remote community in Wadufana, Luwero district in central Uganda. The Luwero triangle, an area of Uganda to the north of the capital, Kampala, has a history of sporadic and devestating conflict.
From 1980 to 1986, between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians were killed while thousands of others were detained, tortured and assaulted as a result of the conflict that raged on in parts of Uganda.
As a result of the fighting, many of the health workers in the region were killed or had chosen to flee the region. In addition, health centres were destroyed or ruined by neglect, overall crippling the ability to provide adequate healthcare to the local population. Family units broke down and thousands of people were displaced. All of these factors had a devastating effect on HIV, TB and malaria rates.
Like many women of her agein the district, Mary lost all of her children to these illnesses, which had left her as the sole provider and carer of her sixteen orphaned grandchildren, ranging from two and seventeen years old.
Malaria is a constantly looming threat to the grandchildrens' health, especially for the younger ones, who have yet to develop protective immunity and are therefore at a greater risk of contracting the disease. But until very recently, Mary had no way of properly protecting her grandchildren from the mosquitoes.
“I would take off my traditional dress at night to cover the younger children, but this did not adequately protect them while they slept. Mosquitoes would still bite them and they would often get malaria. I would carry them to the nearest clinic which is five km away to get treatment but if one child was cured, another would get malaria.”
Often Mary would find herself carrying two children at once to receive treatment at the health centre and was known by the community as the ‘mother with two children’. Mary explained how she was getting more and more depressed and desperate as all her grandchildren gradually fell ill with malaria.
“I was feeling so low and helpless that at one point, I took poison to end my life.”
She was rescued by one of the villagers and taken to the nearest health clinic where AMREF identified her as needing support. Samuel Sewaya, a volunteer community health worker trained by AMREF, started to visit Mary at her home. He provided Mary with mosquito nets for the children, gave her psycho-social support and educated her about the prevention and control of HIV, TB and malaria.
“James has provided me with incredible support,” explains Mary. “He has explained some of the simple ways to prevent malaria and given me useful information on the link it has with other diseases including TB and HIV/AIDS. He has given me good advice on how to diagnose and treat the disease.”
AMREF is training village health teams to improve community knowledge and practices related to malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB, as part of a five-year project supported by AstraZeneca.
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