The following guest post is written by Dr. Rani Whitfield – also known as the Tha Hip Hop Doc. This post chronicles his recent trip to Uganda to discuss telemedicine’s impact in Africa as well as other observations.
It’s been just over six weeks since my return from Uganda and I can’t shake the country’s magnetic appeal! Last year I was invited by the International Center for Information Technology and Development at Southern University and A & M College to deliver a keynote speech on telemedicine and its impact on Africa (PDF of keynote speech). I could not wait to visit this country to not only share information, but to also learn about this historic land.
The conference was held in collaboration with Makerere University, considered to be the Harvard of Africa, The ICT University and The University of Buea. The conference hosted over 300 participants from just over 35 Countries from almost all continents (North America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia). Information Communication Technology (ICT) for Africa is Southern University’s only international conference.
The conference initiated a research and practice agenda for improving socio-economic conditions for the disadvantaged, through the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). Themed “Africa’s E-Inclusion: Defying the Odds and Leading the Way in Global ICT Innovation,” this conference brought together a mix of practitioners and academicians in the area of ICTs for sustainable development. Panel discussions focused on areas such as funding opportunities, e-democracy, ICT and Women Empowerment, traditional medicine, and e-medicine.
Southern University Baton Rouge Professor Victor Mbarika served as Chair. Mbarika, Southern University Board Chairman Dire Mire and I joined President Museveni’s representative, the Honorable Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister of Information and Communication Technology, to officially open the conference.
Digital technology has revolutionized world commerce and practically all other areas of life. The digital revolution has already matured in developed countries; however, developing countries, especially in Africa, have yet to fully benefit from technological advantages. Africa has recently made tremendous progress from being a technological desert to a growing technological forest. A shocking example of the relative technological gap was the introduction of the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in Uganda in March of 1997.
What I Learned While in Uganda
Uganda is very beautiful with abundant food sources. Fresh pineapple, mango, jack fruit, and bananas were just a few of the bounteous food items available to us daily. Uganda is the home of the largest tropical lake in the world, Lake Victoria, and the longest river in the world, The Nile, which originates in Jinja, Uganda. It is the home to some of the most beautiful and unique animals man has ever seen. The people are very kind, humble, and hard working. Uganda has a population of about 34.6 million people and the primary language spoken throughout the country is English.
As beautiful and resourceful as this country is, it is not without its own set of problems especially in terms of healthcare. The infectious and parasitic diseases malaria, schistosomiasis, denuge, and yellow fever still plague the country though generally, they are preventable and treatable. A bizarre ailment known as “Nodding Disease” with no known cause or treatment primarily affects the children of North Uganda. It can cause seizures and blindness in children and is so named because its victims nod their heads back and forth while simultaneously becoming incommunicative.
HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010 around 1.2 million people died from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.9 million people became infected with HIV. Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 14.8 million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
Uganda saw a significant reduction in the number of people living with HIV during the 1990’s. This was believed to be due to a decline in the number of new infections and a rise in the number of those who died from AIDS/AIDS-related deaths. The high number of deaths resulted from late diagnosis, delayed treatment, and lack of access to care. The decline in the number of new infections was believed to have resulted from implementation of grass root campaigns and the ABC approach: Abstinence until marriage; Be faithful to one’s partner; and Condom use, especially for those who have multiple partners. The social and economic consequences of the AIDS epidemic are widely felt, not only in the health sector but also in education, industry, agriculture, transportation, human resources and the economy in general. The AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa continues to devastate communities, rolling back decades of development and progress.
Summit High School
I had a wonderful time in Uganda and was able to squeeze in a visit to the Nile River, make a stop at the equator, and go on a six hour safari. The highlight of my trip, however, was my visit to Summit High School. It was approximately a 30 minute drive from the city. We encountered paved roads and highways as well as dirt roads on the drive. The dirt was a reddish color and there were many potholes along the way which slowed our progress. I didn’t mind however as it gave me a chance to enjoy the landscape. We passed many schools on the way and I saw students of all ages in uniforms walking to school. We arrived at Summit around 11:30am and were greeted by the Headmaster Moses and the Assistant Headmaster. They were very gracious and excited and welcomed the chance for me to speak to the students.
Headmaster Moses was very proud of the school and the progress they were making with renovations. Some construction was going on, but not what I’m accustomed to in the United States. One laborer was there shoveling and moving bricks. The school, although covered by a roof, was open air and made of a wooden frame with brick encasing. The floors were made of dirt that was so matted it barely created dust when kicked. They really didn’t have classrooms but there were two large areas that served as stations for instruction. The desks were wooden and in pretty good shape. There were no readily accessible electrical outlets and no smart boards; just chalk and a large piece of slate. Paper and pencils were available, but I saw very few textbooks.
Summit High School is a boarding school and the students stayed on site. There was no running water, no showers, and no bathrooms. Outhouses were used by the female students and they were less than fancy: a door, a concrete floor, and a hole in the floor. The female students did have an area to bathe, however it was outside of their sleeping quarter. They would fill pans with water; get a towel (if available) and some soap and bathe outdoors. They used this same area to wash and hang their clothes.
The “kitchen” was outdoors and looked more like an area where you would set up a camp site. When we arrived lunch was being prepared for the students which consisted of fava beans and ugali (or posho) which is like porridge and is a staple starch in the country.
After completing the tour, I was introduced to the students and given a chance to speak. They were a little hesitant at first until I opened up talking about some of the local and popular artists in the area – Bobi Wine, Vampino, and Jose Chameleon. I spoke for fifteen minutes and gave the school copies of my music CD and comic books. At the end of my talk one of the female students gave me a very gracious thank you and we took group pictures. Although my message was simple, it was very similar to the message I deliver to youth in the United States: no one can stop you from being successful but yourself and you can’t be what you can’t see.
It was simply uplifting to have traveled to and experienced Uganda. It is an astonishing country and I encourage each of you to visit if possible. Please visit my web site to view pictures of Uganda.
About Dr. Whitfield
Dr. Rani Whitfield is a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN and a Board Certified Family Physician with a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine. He is a national spokesperson for the American Heart and American Stroke Association and is known nationwide for his appearances on I-Village, CNN, MSNBC, and BET. Additionally, he is a physician volunteer for National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC) Communities Are Responding Everywhere (C.A.R.E) Clinics. He is affectionately known as Tha Hip Hop Doc as he uses music and medicine to educate adolescents and young adults about the health issues that affect the quality of their lives.