The white metal van, with its little rubber wheels, rolled up the hill a mile away from Calvary Chapel in Jinja, Uganda towards a municipal hospital. Inside, a mix of a dozen newly arrived Americans and regulars from the congregation bumped along. The property had several simple long buildings with bare doorways and windows. Inside, iron beds ran along each side, exposing the soiled floor. There were no devices beeping, just the quiet whispers of family by bedsides.
During this routine ministry outreach, different groups visited various wards for tuberculosis, HIV and maternity patients. The nurses wore white paper-like hats and white rubber shoes, reminiscent of images from America in the 1960s. I saw no one administering care for over an hour on the grounds. Let me rephrase, we cared. Specifically a women who had just had surgery after giving birth was writhing in pain as she tried to get in a bed, while her tiny newborn and a toddler lay in the next mattress. Her friend, in perfect English, said, “Please pray for her and her baby.” And I did.
The Ugandan ran city hospitals exist to provide, for a price, medicine and some post operational care. However, all personal hygiene, laundry and meals must be given by a personal caretaker of the patients. This is the common way the government and society in this state deal with healthcare. According to 2009 statistics by the World Health Organization, the average Uganda citizen receives $115 worth of treatment a year, with $22 coming from government funds.
Still, though being an advanced country, The United States also requires its citizens to fight for their care. The women in my family have thankfully been overwhelmingly proactive in obtaining proper diagnoses. That doesn’t include the pursuit of treatment, which often entails out of pocket holistic remedies, or agonizing over coverage for MRIs and other procedures. The U.S. system basically relies on an educated populace to guide the administering of their health. In Uganda, this information is heavily guarded. There is a striking lack of knowledge about basic information. Patients are not told what their ailment is or the medicine which is prescribed.
It would be easy to see the American system as superior, until it is compared to a more socialized structure. The WHO reports states that each year, the governments of France and the U.S. spend the same amount per person. However, an American citizen adds nearly $3,000 to that amount. This necessity, and it is a necessity that as citizens we have no control over due to inflated costs of procedures and ineffectual billing systems, takes this social need and places it only in the comfortable hands of the upper class.
Yet, I have never felt the since of dread at an American hospital as I did at the Jinja hospital. It struck me that night as I journaled, “The Ugandan people in the hospital ministry were so loyal and devout. They are not us (Americans) praying over a future that we will never face. They could one day lie in these beds. They are braver than I even realized.”