This month Fruits of Holy Cross profiles a ministry that is saving lives in rural Uganda. The Kyembogo Holy Cross Health Centre in Kirinda, Uganda, provides a range of services to this remote area including maternity care, in-patient treatments, immunizations and HIV/AIDS treatment. HIV/AIDS has plagued most parts of Africa for many years and continues to be widespread in Uganda with 1.3 million adults infected with the virus. We take a closer look at the Sisters of the Holy Cross healthcare outreach ministry in Kirinda.
Kyembogo Holy Cross Health Centre was founded by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in 1998. It started in a small house near the church in Kyembogo in response to the need for a health unit that served the poor from remote locations. Demand for health centre services grew and because of the increased number of patients a bigger health unit with expanded facilities was needed. The Sisters of the Holy Cross mobilized resources and the current health centre was dedicated in December 2001.
After assessing the needs of the local population, services were added including maternity inpatient care and HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, and antiretroviral therapy and care. The inpatient department has 22 beds for adults and children and eight beds for maternity. The health unit operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and carries out curative, preventive and rehabilitative services in the community. Recently, the clinic added new diagnostic equipment including an X-ray machine and incubator funded by grants from the Catholic Human Services Foundation and J. Homer Butler Foundation.
The ART (antiretroviral therapy) Clinic began in 2013 at the health centre and is coordinated by Sister Lillian Nyakaisiki, CSC, who is a nurse. Antiretroviral therapy, recommended for all individuals with HIV, involves the daily use of a combination of medicines to treat and slow the advancement of the HIV infection. The clinic provides all drug regimens except the most advanced which requires referral to the nearest hospital in Fort Portal, more than an hours drive from the clinic. With proper treatment, the HIV infection can be significantly slowed. It is critical that the infection be treated as early as possible to achieve the best results. To date, about 73 percent of adults and 66 percent of children in Uganda infected with HIV receive treatment, according to UNAIDS data from 2019. The health centre is working hard to help close this gap and save lives.
There are currently more than 800 active patients in treatment at the Kyembogo health centre. From 2013 to present, the total number of patient visits annually to the ART Clinic has more than quadrupled from 1,204 to 5,982. While the Ugandan government provides funding to the clinic for the HIV/AIDS drug regimens, the sisters strongly believe that the patients also need a human touch on their journey. The sisters began counseling to help accompany patients through their battle. Counseling is not funded by the government, but thanks to our generous donors to The Ministry With the Poor Fund, counseling is made possible for the hundreds of patients receiving treatment each week. This counseling focuses on preventing HIV, reducing the spread of HIV and infection of others, reducing the stigma associated with HIV, and providing education on effectively completing the treatment regimen.
In addition to the on-site ART Clinic at the health centre, Ministry With the Poor donations make it possible for Sister Lillian and other staff to travel to distant villages to provide in-home treatment and counseling to those with HIV/AIDS. This includes those patients with the most advanced stages of HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, end of life comes far too early for many with HIV/AIDS, but with ART therapy and outreach efforts, many Ugandans can live in hope for a better tomorrow.
The Kyembogo Holy Cross Health Centre and its ART Clinic continue to see growing numbers of patients seeking treatment. The expanding demand calls for increased resources in order to serve all who need HIV/AIDS treatment—including support for counseling, health education and transportation to conduct outreach efforts to remote villages. The clinic struggles to follow-up with patients who stop coming to receive treatment or who miss appointments. This follow-up would make a major difference in health outcomes for those with HIV/AIDS as it is critical that the treatment regimen be closely followed. In response, the ART Clinic will be testing a community drug distribution point to extend the reach to those living far from the clinic. Poor roads and distance often make walking to the clinic impossible, and this program will involve delivering HIV drugs to the areas where they are most needed, enabling patients to keep up to date with their treatment plan.
Help our sisters continue to save lives and expand the reach of this urgently needed treatment. You may donate online our Ministry With the Poor Fund or make a donation to the Kyembogo Holy Cross Health Centre by selecting “other” as your designation and then typing in Uganda Health Centre.
“There are many things to thank God for but one of them is the Ministry With the Poor Fund; at times I ask myself where our HIV clients would be without the help of the generous people who contribute to the fund. I wish I had adequate words to express to each one of them [gratitude] for their love, generosity and care. Only God can reward them for us. One good turn deserves another—you can be assured of our prayers,” said Sister Lillian.