July 2020 report: The loss of another board member, and the continuing impact of covid 19 on the work of Acheru
I was very sorry to hear that Caroline, a member of our board, has died as the result of a brain tumour. She represented the local community where for the last 15 years she has chaired the council. Her experience will be missed, she was a big help to Acheru when we purchased the Kabembe site. Following the recent death of Lydia Kamya, it means we have lost two of our most experienced board members.

The covid virus continues to present challenges, more from the effects of the lockdown in Uganda than from the spread of the virus, which so far has been quite limited there. Restrictions on transport present the biggest problem, severely limiting community and outpatient work. Many patients are unable to get to Acheru, and permits are needed to transport children to and from CoRSU, where a limited surgical programme continues. Ugandans who depend heavily on public transport, which is rarely available now, are having serious problems getting food, with the poorest affected most, but Acheru has been able to offer some help. The restrictions on travel have curtailed community visits so Acheru offered use of the pickup for food distribution, and was contacted by the district commissioner. For the last three weeks, with fuel provided by the government, Joyce's husband Paul has been driving into villages with food. This has raised Acheru's profile with many people, including the officials involved, asking about the work, and this has strengthened our partnership with the district authorities.

Food distribution in the covid lockdown

Acheru working with the district to distribute food
Much of the Acheru community work centres on families, not just the child who has been treated, and many other problems are encountered. For poor families already facing serious difficulties, the covid restrictions have made things a lot worse, including limiting access to medical services.
We need to be cautious in what help we offer to such families, there are so many needing help and we can't be diverted away from the 'core' work of Acheru by getting into ongoing commitments. However, we also try to maintain a separate community fund from which help can be given in particular circumstances, usually in the form of a single gift intended to help the whole family. Two such families we presently work with are suffering due to mental health issues. In one case it's the parents who are affected, but this means they can't properly care for the children; their community doesn't understand, so keeps a distance instead of being supportive. In another family of 10 children, the mother has been abused by the father who has brought home another wife. The mother and several of the children face serious medical issues; one daughter has been unable to access her medication in lockdown, but the Acheru team, who had been the first to make them aware of mental hospitals, was able to arrange transport for the girl to get the medication she needed to stabilise her condition. One of the boys, who has cerebral palsy (which Acheru has particular experience of), has been an Acheru patient for 10 years.

Parents unable to deal with the needs of their children

The abused mother with 10 children
There are so many other families whose situations have been made much worse by the lockdown. A visit from Harriet and Rose can give great encouragement to people who feel rejected or abandoned. I am in regular contact with Acheru, and want to do all I can to help them. In difficult circumstances they are trying to do what they can to maintain a service to the children they deal with. Usually relations with the families of Acheru children are good, with treating a disabled child improving quality of life for all of them, but sometimes, for whatever reason, the parents see Acheru as a way to get rid of the child. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, the staff are very good at fully involving families in the rehabilitation of a child who might previously have been rejected, but there have been some very difficult cases. I've just got news of another, a 17 year old boy whose treatment seems to have been successful, has been abandoned by his family. They are from northern Uganda, so distance will make this more difficult to deal with; the first step will be to establish why they don't want him back, but it was already clear from his condition on admission some months ago that he had suffered serious neglect and consequent suffering.

Community visit
We've had some good news from Acheru. Water can be a problem there. Rainwater is collected in underground tanks but isn't always enough, meaning water must be carried from the borehole. It's not far away, but it is inconvenient so it's good to hear that we should soon have a mains supply to a tap on site. I think the installation is almost complete, just waiting for the water meter. Of course we'll have to pay for the water, but this can be offset against the cost of using the pickup to collect water and as they enter a dry spell this should be a real benefit.

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