Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Ugandan life amazes nurses

Kyabram and District Health Services staff members Loretta Lilford and Justin Sullivan spent a month living and working at Suubi Health Clinic in Uganda.

January 17, 2013 4:19am

In her element: Loretta could not get enough of the beautiful natured childen.


‘‘Community spirit, absolute joy and teamwork.’’

That was what Loretta Lilford and Justin Sullivan from Kyabram and District Health Services experienced when they spent a month living and working at Suubi Health Clinic in Uganda.

Suubi Health Clinic is situated in a remote part of south-western Uganda and celebrated its first birthday during Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan’s time there in July and August last year.

Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan’s trip was possible through a partnership between Kyabram District Health Services and the HUG (Help Us Grow) organisation, founded by Kyabram woman Helen Brown.

In total, 40 staff members from KDHS spent time volunteering at the clinic last year.

Mr Sullivan said working at the clinic was a very different experience to what he was used to.

He described the conditions at the clinic as ‘‘clean but basic.’’

‘‘They’ve got electricity, but that might be a hit and miss,’’ he said.

‘‘At the moment they’ve been without power for three weeks.

‘‘There’s no running water anywhere.’’

The pair were impressed with the skills and professionalism of the clinic staff — one medical officer (a doctor), one scientist, two nurses and one support person.

‘‘We had liaised with them before we went, but we thought the only way we could best help was to actually meet them and see the clinic,’’ Ms Lilford said.

‘‘They are all trained professionals. They’ve got amazing skills and work with very little resources.’’

‘‘We worked out that for a fortnight the medical officer would get paid what we get paid here in an hour,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan took old hospital supplies such as dressings and stainless steel instruments with them for use in the clinic.

‘‘They (the staff) were delighted,’’ Ms Lilford said.

Mr Sullivan said they mainly saw cases of tropical diseases at the clinic, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, as well as wounds such as pig bites.

He said some of the latest developments at the clinic have revolved around preventative health, including family planning and immunisation.

On one of the final days of their trip Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan had a young boy arrive at the clinic who was seriously ill and it was decided transferring him to the hospital at Masaka — 30 minutes away — would be the best option.

Without any ambulance services and after many phone calls and riding around the village on his motorcycle, the clinic manager tracked down a vehicle for transportation.

‘‘We had this sick child and no ambulance ... it was very frightening,’’ Ms Lilford said.

Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan nursed the young boy, who had fallen unconscious, in the vehicle’s back seat while they travelled over some rough terrain on the way to the hospital.

‘‘We left with heavy hearts but it was wonderful when we came home and heard he was okay,’’ Ms Lilford said.

As well as working at the clinic, Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan spent time meeting the locals and helping out in the village.

Mr Sullivan said the local children were fascinated by the ‘mzungu’ (white people).

‘‘They would come up and play with the hair on my arms and then laugh about it,’’ he said.

‘‘They were just fascinated by it.’’

Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan fondly recalled the clinic’s first birthday celebration where more than 80 people turned up for a night of food and dancing.

They both said they were inspired by their time in Uganda.

‘‘The absolute joy amongst such material poverty — it’s amazing,’’ Ms Lilford said.

‘‘I get a bit emotional talking about it ... it was heartbreaking to leave.’’

‘‘You can’t experience it and just forget it,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

‘‘We are hopefully going back in 2014.’’

Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan are already working on fundraising activities with KDHS to assist the clinic moving forward.

‘‘Our aim is to raise $12000 to purchase a second-hand land rover to transport patients to the hospital. It will just make it easier for the whole community,’’ Ms Lilford said.

‘‘We also believe we can help towards a nursing scholarship which would pay for a local person to go and do their training,” Mr Sullivan said.

Many who volunteered at the clinic this year have already raised funds by bringing back paper beads made by Ugandan locals to sell here.

‘‘We brought back about 50kg of the paper beads. Of the volunteers from June to August, we have sold $7500 worth of them already and there is another lot coming over this month,’’ Ms Lilford said.

‘‘It blows you away, people’s generosity.’’

Anyone who wants to find out more about Ms Lilford and Mr Sullivan’s experiences or thinks they may be able to help in some way can visit the HUG website at for more information.

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