Health Promotion and Care at Mustard Seed:
Average life expectancy in Uganda is about 55 years. There are many reasons for this—poverty, malnutrition, disease, lack of access to healthcare, for example. To promote health among the children of Mustard Seed, two nurses operate mini clinics on the campus. When a child feels ill, teachers can send the child to be cared for by one of the nurses. The nurses also provide health education to the students. In cases of more serious illness, children receive healthcare at one of the local community clinics. Specialized care can also be provided at a more well-equipped clinic in a nearby city or in a hospital, if necessary. Two diseases, in particular, have contributed to the low life expectancy--HIV/AIDS and Malaria.
HIV/AIDS: Most people know about the modern scourge of HIV/AIDS that has decimated the young adult populations of many African nations. Uganda has made an aggressive national effort, largely through education, to reduce the HIV infection rate--now down to 7%. In Lukaya, along the AIDS Highway, infection rates are estimated to be three times as high. Since many HIV positive adults can neither afford nor get treatment, many die. The living victims are their children, who may or may not also be infected. Many of the children at MSA are AIDS orphans who are left to live with relatives or guardians. Without the sponsors provided by Real Partners Uganda, their prospects would be very poor.
The longer-term struggle to prevent infection is a goal of most schools in Uganda. One immediate approach is to provide economic opportunities for poor single women who otherwise may fall into prostitution in a desperate attempt to feed their children and keep a place to live. We continue to look for opportunities to encourage women in the community to develop skills, such as weaving, so that they can have other ways to support their families. Educating girls is the best long-term approach to helping them avoid sexual exploitation and HIV infection and to develop economic independence. Mustard Seed Academy is committed to equal educational opportunity for both boys and girls. It is also actively involved in HIV/AIDS education starting in P-3.
Uganda Cares, a specialized facility for treating HIV/AIDS, is located nearby in Lukaya. Every child enrolled in Mustard Seed has been tested for HIV, and the few children who tested positive are engaged in treatment.
Malaria: Malaria is the largest killer of Ugandan children under the age of 5. Nearly all Ugandans suffer from Malaria at least couple times each year, usually during the two rainy seasons. Ugandans cannot afford the anti-malarial medications that western visitors take; so they must seek treatment, if they can afford it, or suffer through a week or more in bed. Chills, high fevers, head and body aches, and dehydration are some of the symptoms. Many small children don't survive malaria, succumbing to dehydration, high fevers, or other complications. It is a preventable disease that is devastating, year after year.
RPU has worked with Tree of Life Ministries to combat malaria in a number of ways. We support medical treatment for MSA children and staff from our school nurses when appropriate, and visits to a local clinic when needed.
To help protect against bites from the disease-carrying Anopheles mosquito, RPU ran a campaign in the US to provide every Mustard Seed child with a mosquito net. Since the mosquitos are primarily active after dark, sleeping under treated nets can cut down significantly on infection.
Even with the nets, there is still an unacceptable incidence of malaria. Scientific research from Germany shows that leaves of an easily grown plant, Artemisia, have strong anti-malarial action. The approach is to grow the plants, harvest and dry the leaves, and then steep the crushed leaves in hot water to produce a tea. Taken 2 times a week during the rainy season, the tea helps prevent malaria from developing, even when a person receives mosquito bites. RPU has encouraged the use of this approach to preventing malaria.