Summer plans: Research and palliative care in Uganda

by Lorien E. Menhennett

My visa to Uganda.

My visa to visit Uganda.

One of the reasons I was so interested in Weill Cornell is its emphasis on global health. This isn’t a passing fancy. I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile for a semester in college, and learned more about the world—and myself—than I imagined possible. My career goal during college was to become a foreign correspondent based in Latin America. And upon graduation, I earned a minor in international studies. All that is to say: global issues matter to me.

Things are a little different now. I’m no longer a journalist. I’m in medical school. But my interest in the world outside our borders hasn’t changed. So this summer, I’m spending three weeks in rural Uganda. I’m going with a physician from Weill Cornell who travels there every summer to help provide palliative medical care in a small hospital, as well as rural home settings. The organization that funds the work is called Palliative Care for Uganda. I’ve linked to the group’s website, which has pictures of the hospital and village where I’ll be going. I’ve seen the photos and heard the stories too, but I know I’m completely unprepared for what I will find there. I don’t know how I’ll respond or feel about what I see. My only expectation for the trip is that it will change me, and how I think about things.

The main purpose of the trip is to provide medical care. We will be rounding in the local hospital. Along with the hospital’s palliative care outreach team, we will also be traveling to people’s homes to provide care there.

While on a medical mission, we’re also on an educational mission. Many people in Uganda, when they become sick, don’t seek medical attention. So their conditions worsen and may become terminal. We want to understand why they don’t seek medical care early on when illnesses are potentially treatable. There are some theories, but none have truly been investigated in Uganda. We hope the information will be useful from a public health perspective down the road, but that’s not part of what we’re doing this summer. Specifically, I’ll be interviewing patients and caregivers in their homes. I’ll ask about people’s understanding of illness, for example, and what type of medical care they sought early on, if any. Separately, I’ll also interview the health care workers. We’ll see what we find.

While in Uganda, I also plan to take in some of the sights—hopefully a weekend safari.

It’s a short trip, only three weeks. But I know it will be a life-changing experience. I will have Internet access while there (at least periodically) so plan to write about those experiences as they occur. So stay tuned.