Ugandan visitor thanks Victorians for efforts to help HIV sufferers
A special connection between Victoria and some of Africa's most impoverished people is flourishing in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
The focus is Mengo Hospital, where HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis present huge challenges, and where Victoria respirologist Dr. Jim Sparling decided to travel in 1997 after hearing about the glaring needs of the aging facility and its patients.
Sparling said the link with Mengo comes through Dr. Donald Gibson, an orthopedic surgeon who worked at the hospital several decades ago and retired to Victoria. "His three kids were delivered there," said Sparling.
Sparling has had several stints at Mengo, the most recent a fourmonth stay this year. His work in Africa has come as he winds down his long medical career in Victoria. "I've replaced medicine here with this involvement."
He said he is privileged to be able to help deal with the "crazy pandemic" of HIV/AIDS in Africa. "It's why we keep going back."
One of Sparling's colleagues in recent years has been Hilda Shilliday, a former public health nurse who remains intent on spending time at Mengo at the age of 81. She pointed out that HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are inextricably tied together in Africa. "I would say more than half of the people with AIDS also have TB." TB is "a disease of poverty" and affects 80 per cent of Ugandans with HIV, Sparling said.
Shilliday said the Ugandans she knows are inured to the presence of AIDS in their lives. "People in Africa could not believe that I did not have a family member or a friend with AIDS. My young friends there would say they know dozens of people with AIDS."
Sparling said more than 2,300 people at Mengo are on anti-viral drug treatment for HIV/AIDS, about 10 times the number in all of Victoria.
At the heart of the Victoriabased efforts at the hospital is a TB clinic, established through a grant from the Saanich Rotary Club, to which Sparling belongs. Since its creation in the late 1990s, it has been run by Dora Nairuba, a Ugandan nurse currently visiting Victoria.
Nairuba, affectionately known as Sister Dora, has been speaking to local groups during her stay and will be taking part in a Friends of Mengo fundraiser on Monday. She said she has been struck by the majesty of Canada during her visit, which was arranged by local supporters such as Sparling and Shilliday.
"You have a very beautiful country," Nairuba said. "You are very privileged to be in Canada. I thank all the Canadians who put in a lot to help the people at Mengo Hospital."
The Friends of Mengo fundraising event will be held at The Moon Under Water, 350B Bay St. One area of emphasis will be on efforts to provide a simple nutritional supplement to people with HIV/AIDS.