Dear all, 

As we write these words, COVID-19 related deaths are on the rise world-wide. Some are heartbroken to have lost loved ones, while others who haven’t experienced loss are moved to learn how many strangers have succumbed to the pandemic. 

Lacor Hospital has identified many individuals with COVID-19. At least 30 staff members have quarantined, but thanks to early detection and isolation, Lacor has managed over 100 suspected cases. In the process, they recorded COVID-related 12 deaths. The increase in admissions of critically sick patients has implications for improving the hospital’s intensive care. Lacor has consulted with medical volunteers who coped with Italy’s huge surge in COVID numbers. In the past, these workers have frequently travelled from Italy to Gulu and, thanks to their lengthy experience in Uganda, they can offer suggestions for a response that makes sense within Lacor’s unique context.

In Canada, pharmacy students working on the Pharmacy Management Project, financed by the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation for over 10 years, are finding ways to help Lacor by undertaking their clinical rotations and fundraisers virtually this year since travelling is restricted during the pandemic. As well, our long-time friend Dr. François Couturier and his team from the University of Sherbrooke are using knowledge gained from their visits to Lacor to give support from Canada while international travel remains impossible. The obstacle of distance is surmounted every day, with many generously contributing their time and knowledge to help Lacor.

In this newsletter, you will read about our valuable Canadian volunteers and about how a simple, generous gesture made all the difference. 

We wish a healthy and safe holiday season to everyone, 

Teasdale-Corti Team

This long-lasting pandemic is forcing all of us to adapt. Globally, the need for help is rising but new restrictions are creating difficulties in the developing world. At the Foundation, we are also adapting to this change. In regard to our Pharmacy Management Project, our Canadian pharmacy students have recently begun not only virtual training, but also online fundraisers. 

Sister Josephine Hoyelah, Lacor’s head pharmacist, is coaching Canadian pharmacy students at the University of Toronto (UofT) and the University of Montréal (UofM) in sessions via Skype. The students are creating patient education tools, with a student from UofT developing one for Hypertension and students from UofM for Sickle Cell, Peptic Ulcer, Urinary Tract Infection, and back pain. The pharmacy students started by conducting interviews with patients, asking various questions about their understanding. Then, they created patient education pamphlets with special emphasis on the identified deficiencies. The first outcomes of these education sessions are positive: we are already seeing increased awareness of drug interactions and peer role-modeling where patients are encouraged to share their knowledge. 

In terms of fundraising for Lacor, Global Medicine Initiative (GMI), an organization run by UofT pharmacy students, hosted a gala from July 18 to 25. This was the first time GMI’s annual event was held online. Their program highlight was a virtual silent auction which included art frames and a sculpture, but also priceless items such as professor auctions. Virtual mentorships and lunch given by professors were items that earned the most bids. The gala raised a total of $1250, thanks to generous sponsors and professors. 

Our pharmacy students did not stop there. This December, they are joining forces and organizing a new virtual fundraiser. The goal is to create a merged online experience that will attract more people to learn about Lacor’s good work. Hopefully, by uniting their efforts, these students will raise even more funds together by offering people an option to give donations. If you are interested in encouraging their efforts, please visit www.canadahelps. org/en/pages/rice-krispies 

We would like to express our deepest gratitude towards Lacor’s pharmacy team, project manager Doret Cheng and project coordinator Caroline Potvin, and to Canadian pharmacy students for their ability to adapt and for their dedication to making a positive impact in global health. Last but not least, we thank Ms. Marie-Josée Coutu. Without her continuous support, the alliances that led pharmacy students to help Lacor remotely would not have been possible. 

Thanks to Dr. François Couturier and his team at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of University of Sherbrooke (UofS), Lacor periodically receives 4-week supervised clinical training sessions in Family Medicine at the hospital, and at its affiliated community health centres in the Pabbo, Amuru, and Opit villages. Over the last 8 years, this unique elective has been deployed 15 times, attracting nearly 60 health professionals from across the province of Quebec, including medical residents in Family Medicine and other specialties, practicing physicians, and registered nurses. 

Among other goals, this internship provides learners with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a medical culture different from their own, to appreciate the impact of socio-economic determinants on diseases, and to familiarize themself with diagnosis and treatment of various tropical diseases. 

The last field trip from Dr. Couturier took place between January 12 and February 8, 2020. The team, composed of two supervisors and four Family Medicine residents, returned to Quebec around one month before WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. 

The first week of the internship took place at the hospital itself. This first stop is for the trainees to get acquainted with malaria, sickle cell disease, AIDS, and other tropical ailments. The team then headed to Opit for an 18-day period. 

The village is located about 45 minutes from Lacor, off a dirt road. The Opit health centre is staffed by 15 full-time Ugandan health professionals and houses approximately 25 beds. The UofS team’s activities included rotations and clinical work in the outpatient department and the maternity ward. Approximately 20 patients were seen each day on rounds. Unsurprisingly, infectious diseases and children represented the core of the work’s focus. Most of the patients seen by the UofS team were children with severe cases. Many of the infectious disorders were malaria with complications such as seizures, coma, septicemia, anemia, and others. All the trainees had to adapt to Opit’s limited resources, which restricted certain interventions. 

The Opit experience proved to be very positive. The local team has clearly shown the capacity to provide excellent opportunities for shared learning and collaboration. Lacor is very supportive of the clinical work and exposure of their staff to family medicine practices over the years. Dr. Couturier’s team is now waiting for the end of COVID-19 before taking their next field trip. In the meantime, he is working closely with the Foundation and Lacor to see how his team can help remotely to improve antenatal care at the hospital and its health centers. For this support, Lacor is deeply grateful. 

Volunteering or donating feels good. Compassion is contagious, even when we help someone we don’t know personally. We help for many reasons: religious beliefs, innate empathy, or our own past experiences. Here is a story of how a gift received can transform into a gift given. 

Agnes is the mother of 4-year-old Peace, who caught malaria this summer. Agnes looked everywhere for the only villager with a motorcycle. He was nowhere to be found, and Peace’s condition worsened with vomiting and diarrhea. In a desperate effort to lower her temperature, Agnes wrapped her daughter in wet clothing. She called a motor taxi but found no one to help because of the Covid-19 restrictions on local travel. Carrying Peace on her back, Agnes walked 14 kilometers to Lacor Hospital, Peace shaking with chills and delirious with fever. Her anemia, a side-effect of malaria, was very serious. Peace urgently needed a blood transfusion. Due to the pandemic, the hospital’s blood shortage is more dramatic than usual. A compatible blood bag was Peace’s only chance of survival. The search for a blood donor continued all night. At last, William, the father of another hospitalized child, offered his blood. To everyone’s relief, William’s blood was compatible. William’s gift gave Peace a new life. He had looked at Peace with compassion, but his generosity was also influenced by his own experience a year before. William tells us: “During the last rainy season someone else donated blood to save my son’s life. Helping Peace was the right thing to do.” 

Such moments happen regularly at Lacor. Whether from a parent, a staff member, or an international donor, understanding the urgency of other people’s needs and caring about a stranger’s survival are gifts that make all the difference in times of crisis. 

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