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CMS - Inspire October 08 - Hope in Uganda for HIV sufferers

In Luwero, Uganda, the Kiwoko Hospital’s holistic approach is improving the lives of patients – and showing them that God cares

The children were bored. Alison Fletcher could see that right away. As HIV+ boys and girls, they’d been invited with their caregivers to Kiwoko Hospital for a support meeting, but the talks were well over their heads. 

So Alison, a physiotherapist, took the children to the rehab area to play games for a couple of hours. 

That was in 2004. What began with a few children and staff has today grown to a monthly activity day with 125 HIV+ children registered and more than 23 volunteers.

They play games, watch puppets, sing songs, do crafts and have a discussion time around a spiritual theme. Alison says: “One month we talked about how God calls ordinary people, like the fishermen who became disciples, and how he gives us jobs to do in telling others about his love.”

For most of the children, who range up to age 17, this is the first time they’ve been able to play like other children, with other children. And yet playtime significantly improves their health, mental attitude and social skills. 

“One day I was watching the relay races,” said Alison, “and I watched Prossy, one of the older girls, who is usually quiet and shy, run in the wrong direction, roaring with laughter at her mistake. This is what the programme is all about … showing them there is more to life and above all, there is hope.”

The growth of the HIV+ children’s programme is a reflection of the growth of Kiwoko Hospital itself: gradual, in direct response to people’s physical and spiritual needs and designed to bring hope where hope is scarce.

“We treat, Jesus heals,” reads the lettering on the outside of Kiwoko Hospital, which officially opened in 1991 as a result of efforts by Dr Ian Clarke, a GP from Bangor. Dr Clarke first visited Luwero in 1988, two years after the end of a civil war that raged from 1982 to 1986 between Milton Obote and Yoweri Museveni  – a civil war that left 250,000 people dead and the area in ruins.

Only a handful of buildings were still standing. The only church remaining was home to the army. Dr Clarke lived with his family on the top floor of a ramshackle farmhouse.

Julian Pettifer wrote in his book Missionaries that “Ian Clarke … opened a clinic on the steps of a bullet riddled church. The floor of the church is his operating table, and in the doorway the local pastor, ironically named Livingstone, dispenses the drugs.”

Over the next several years, people came from other parts of Uganda as well as Europe and North America, to work in Kiwoko. Today, the hospital has more than 220 beds, a laboratory, a nurse training school and an active community based health care programme. It also has a mission team that helps train church leaders in church planting and evangelism. 

The holistic mission approach – helping people physically and spiritually – is one of the things Alison appreciates about Kiwoko, where she has worked since 2002: “What I love about Kiwoko is having the opportunity to build relationships with the people around me, both patients and other staff; to learn from them and with them.” She enjoys having Bible study with some of the staff.

The activity days for HIV+ children are just one part of her job and she’s grateful for all the volunteers, many of whom are Ugandan. “Some of them are clients of the adult HIV clinic at Kiwoko and they can understand the children’s burdens so much better than I can,” she says. 

Alison’s other physiotherapy patients come for a variety of reasons: they may be victims of car accidents, people suffering from TB or meningitis, HIV or in the case of Julius, tetanus. 

When Alison and her team first met eight-year-old Julius, his muscles had stiffened so much. “He was like a plank of wood,” says Alison. He could barely speak and was very scared. The physio team developed a series of exercises for Julius. “Does it hurt?” they asked him.

“Mpulira bulungi (I feel good),” was his reply. His mother was amazed at his progress and ecstatic to be able to take him home.

It’s difficult to believe, looking at the facility and all the care programmes Kiwoko offers, that less than 20 years ago it would have been virtually impossible for someone like Prossy or Julius to get medical care.

One can only hope and pray that the hospital will continue to be a light to those in need and that the vision of Dr Clarke and his successors will continue to be protected by people like Alison. 

Please pray for Kiwoko Hospital and for CMS mission partner Alison Fletcher and the rest of the staff that they would continue to be a faithful presence in Uganda.


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