About UNC Project-Uganda

In 2004, a group of UNC physicians established the Amal Murarka International Pediatric Health Foundation in memory of their colleague, Dr. Amal Murarka, who died unexpectedly in 2003. The foundation sent a medical team to Kampala to establish the country's first pediatric intensive care unit at Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, where Dr. Murarka had previously conducted research. Subsequent work in 2007 and 2008 focused on pediatric cardiac surgery. The foundation not only built a cardiac ICU, but also performed a total of 21 life-saving pediatric cardiac surgeries.

In 2008 the foundation partnered with the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases to establish UNC Project-Uganda.


The UNC Project-Uganda was established to support sustainable delivery of compassionate and competent health care to infants, children, and adolescents in Uganda; to improve the medical knowledge of the Ugandan health care workforce through in-country training and a physician exchange program; and to provide advanced medical equipment, medications, and services necessary for the delivery of compassionate and competent pediatric care in Uganda.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reflections from a first-timer

I cannot summarize all that I have taken in during our stay in Uganda but I will try to convey a few impressions. One overall reality is that people here are living and making do without many things that we take for granted. But there does not seem to be a shortage of hope or effort.

One of the things I noticed on the drive from Entebbe to Kampala that first day was that the roads were busy with people walking, riding or driving. And though they emerged from modest or poor neighborhoods with unpaved roads, almost everyone dressed well. And though the shop fronts and roadside businesses ranged from shabby to modest, they were bustling. Both in and out of the hospital people were using the available resources to get the job done, without complaint.

Arriving in Mulago what most impressed me that first day and every day after was the warmth, openness and humor of our colleagues and hosts.

With our Ugandan colleagues there was also an exchange going on that first day. I needed to learn how to work in a new setting, with new people and equipment that was not completely familiar. I also needed to learn which of the ideas and practices I brought with me were useful and applicable. Similarly, the Ugandans needed to get to know those of us who were there for the first time and what we had to offer. Anytime a new team is brought together there is a sizing up of strengths, weaknesses and personalities. So the first couple of days were a bit awkward for me. By day three things were noticeably easier as we began to coordinate better, draw on each other’s strengths and to appreciate each person’s contribution.

At the Samaritan’s Purse dinner I finally got the chance to talk to my Ugandan co-workers in a purely social setting. This was a treat. We talked about sports, politics, families and travel. We talked about life in Uganda and life in the US. It’s strange, but I never felt or was made to feel especially like a foreigner. The shared language helped tremendously but I think the main reason this was so was not language but the welcome we received and the mission we shared. There is nothing that pulls people together like having a common, important purpose.

This brings me to my last impression, formed while caring for the children and their families. Watching them progress from the pre-operative period of anxiety and waiting, through post-operative disorientation and pain, and finally back to a state of well-being and happiness was remarkable. I have been down this path many times before but to witness it play out in Uganda was unique.

The experience is the same for these children and families in many ways as for patients and families at home but it is also different. They are placing their faith in strangers from far away and we are trying to reach across that distance and demonstrate skill and compassion. To see the children begin to relax and open up, to see their intense and very individual personalities emerge, was a joy and a confirmation of success I will always treasure.

I owe many people thanks for this journey: my family for their love and support; Katherine Desrochers and Karla Brown for inviting me to join them and for their guidance; and Dr. Keith Kocis, the driving force behind this mission from its inception. This mission is a tribute not only to Dr. Amal Murarka but also to Keith. My special thanks to our Ugandan colleagues. I miss them the most.

Lastly, I thank the organizations who have shared our vision and made it possible to realize. Samaritan’s Purse and HVO have supported us in so many ways and their representatives in Uganda were wonderful to work with and know. May we continue to build on the successful missions behind us.

John Bryson, RN

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