Sitting in the plane on my flight back to South Africa, I’m thinking back over the past 5 weeks and how meaningful they have been. I feel so privileged that I had this opportunity to work with the the team in Kampala: honoured that they trusted me to act on behalf of the charity that they have built from the ground, thankful that I was given the room to learn and explore, that my skills and opinions were valued, that we could work as a team to problem solve and find ways to work around the barriers that are preventing children from accessing our clinic, that we were able to give a range of treatments and individual care to each child that came through our doors (metaphorical doors- sometimes our clinics were outdoors in the community with the chickens and goats), and that we got to share far more giggles and smiles with children than tears!
The magnitude of the need for ear care and hearing services in Uganda is massive- the service is close to none, particularly for those who can’t afford private services. There are about 5 Audiologists in Uganda, a country with a population of 37 million. I feel like we have seen everything over the past 5 weeks- microtia, perforations, ear infections, glue ear, discharging ears, mastoiditis, hearing loss from trauma, ototoxic antibiotics, complications during pregnancy, birth and post birth. We have also seen non-verbal children with normal hearing who were presumed deaf by their parents. Ruling out hearing loss and making further referrals for assessment means that these children are one step closer to diagnosis, intervention and reaching their full potential.
Not everything was easy and there were certainly challenges. So many socioeconomic and cultural barriers stood in our way. Some mornings none of the booked patients would arrive- maybe due to lack of transport money, heavy rains, or the parents not understanding the importance of their appointment. Children don’t always catch on to how they are meant to do the hearing test despite explaining for (sometimes) the eighth time. Sometimes the babies wouldn’t fall asleep and we couldn’t do their much needed hearing assessment. Breaking the news to a mother that their child has no hearing and most likely will not be able to use speech as their primary method of communication hasn’t been easy. But at the end of the day we do our best and celebrate the small wins, and it means the world to those we are successful with.
My favourite part of volunteering as an audiologist with IHCC was fitting children with hearing aids and seeing the hearing benefit that they are getting. We’ve seen kids with mild to severe hearing loss now hearing at a normal level with their hearing aids, and other children with profound loss and presumed “dead” cochlea regions hearing sounds at the level of a moderate hearing loss. I’m so proud of these children- how they concentrated so hard during the hearing teats so we could get the necessary results for their fitting, how they have embraced their hearing aids and worn them diligently despite having never seen a hearing aid before. I love hearing about their goals now that they have improved hearing- to be first in class instead of third, to catch up to the level of their peers and pass the year, to improve their speech production. Suddenly there is hope and ambition!
As I close off my blog, I would like to give a big thank you to Paul and Liz, the IHCC team and trustees, and each person who has made themselves available to discuss various cases and protocols as we have been developing the audiology clinic for the past 5 weeks. I appreciate it all and I know our little patients and their families are beyond grateful!