In early June, local pharmacist Rebecca Reed went on a mission trip to Uganda. While there, she worked in a make-shift clinic and pharmacy and helped distribute medications to 4,958 people over the course of just five days.
This mission trip was one of many Reed has taken since her first in 1995. She was initially hesitant to go on a mission trip, which may have had something to do with the stories her husband, Paul, told of his own first mission — a trip to Bolivia.
“He came home and was talking about things like riding in the back of a wheat truck for eight hours,” Reed said. “There were no showers and no bed, and I thought there was no way I want to do that!” Then one day she suddenly found herself asking about going on a trip.
“Before I knew what I was saying, I was asking about the cost of going on a mission trip to Mexico,” Reed said. Since that first trip, she has been on over 20 missions to locations all across the United States and the entire world. In addition to Mexico and Uganda, she has been to Guatemala, Nicaragua, inner city Houston, and San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
“There’s something that just keeps calling me back,” she said. “It’s become a passion of mine.”
Of all the places Reed has been, Uganda has a special place in her heart. This was actually her fourth trip to the country since her initial visit in 2011. During this time, she has noticed a slow but steady improvement in the conditions in the country. Everything from the roads to the health and sprit of the people are getting better. Part of what made the trip in June so special, however, was using her knowledge of medicine to help the Ugandan people.
Missionaries came from all across the United States to work with the Watoto Children’s Ministries, the group responsible for organizing the clinic. The Watoto Children’s Ministries runs three orphanages in villages across northern Uganda, and each one has its own clinic.
“The medical professionals from all three orphanages came together with ours to do the medical outreach,” Reed said. The outreach all took place in rented tents in the middle of a field, and Reed was initially shocked to learn how many patients were expected to attend the clinic.
“They told us that we were supposed to see 5,000 people in five days,” Reed said. “I thought to myself how are we ever going to see that many? I’ve done a lot of medical trips but I’ve never seen anything like that!” In the end, Reed joked that they were able to take it easy because only 4,958 patients came through.
“In that group, I averaged four prescriptions per person, so we filled around 20,000 prescriptions in five days,” she said. In fact they filled so many prescriptions, they ended up having to get more medication half way through the week.
“On Wednesday alone we had seen over 1,400 people,” Reed said. “They ended up having to get the medications from Kampala, Uganda which is about a five to six hour drive.”
The medications were back before work began on Thursday morning, so they were able to continue their work without a hitch. Reed said that while she treated many different ailments, the two most common were malaria and H. Pylori infections.
“Malaria was a major issue because it had been the rainy season,” Reed said. “Unfortunately, this happens every time the rainy season comes around.”
“The pharmacy was the best place to start treatments for children who had malaria,” Reed said. “So we had I.V. strings in the back of the pharmacy where they would bring over the children and some babies who had malaria. They would start their first treatment there.” She went on to describe the process of treating the children.
“Two nurses worked with me in the pharmacy, along with a couple others from Uganda who were there,” Reed said. “One nurse would start the I.V’s and there were these children laying out on the ground because they were so sick with the malaria.”
The other major ailment many possessed was an H. pylori infection, a bacterial infection of the stomach which can lead to ulcers. Reed said that a lot of people in the United States also suffer from this malady and, fortunately, it’s easily treated.
“We did lots of Prilosec and antibiotics to try to kill out that bacteria,” Reed said.
They also saw many patients with HIV, and one person who came through was actually suffering from leprosy.
On top of the challenges that come with treating so many patients, another dilemma came from overcoming the language barrier. While the official language is English, Reed said that Ugandans actually speak a variety of languages and dialects.
“There are 30 to 50 languages spoken,” she said. “All the children are taught English in school, but the older ones may understand only a bit. They may speak one of their tribal languages instead.” To overcome this obstacle, many interpreters were on hand to translate between the variety of languages being spoken. The interpreters were not only helpful to the American missionaries, but also to some of the Ugandan doctors as well.
“The physicians from Uganda are normally from the southern part of the country,” Reed said. “They couldn’t speak the same language as the northern patients, so even they had to have an interpreter.”
Ultimately, Reed found the entire experience incredibly rewarding, and said that she may even return to the country again.