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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
November 29, 2008
By The IRC
Michael Scharff, IRC Princeton in Africa Fellow, is helping to produce an educational video about hepatitis E in the Kitgum district of northern Uganda. Below Michael shares some of his experiences as he travels through Kitgum: Kitgum is ground-zero in the fight against hepatitis E, which is transmitted by eating and drinking contaminated food and water. In the past year, hepatitis E has devastated Kitgum, and claimed more than 100 lives and infected over 8,500 people. To help, the IRC has hired a film crew from Kampala to create a 30-minute video to educate people about avoiding contracting hepatitis E. Once the film is finalized, two mobile film vans supplied by the Kitgum District Health Office and fueled by the IRC will screen the video in different communities twice daily for a period of about one month. "This is the worst epidemic Uganda has seen in some time," Dr. Alex Olwedo, district health officer for the department of health in Kitgum, says. "It's important that we pass messages to the community about the dangers of hepatitis E. That's what this film will do." Shortly after sunrise we arrive at Kitgum district's municipal offices. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. I'm joined by the film crew and staff from the IRC’s health programs. The agenda for our first day of filming is rather straightforward: interview leading local and national-level government officials. Their presence on-camera will lend an air of credibility to the messages we're trying to get across in the film. One of the officials we've come to interview is the chairperson of the local council who is considered the highest ranking political official in Kitgum. While unloading gear at our first stop of the day, a local official tells us the offices and the rest of the town have had no power for nearly a week. This poses a serious issue because the lighting and sound equipment need power. A few frantic phone calls and 30 minutes later, we have a small generator humming down the hall from the chairperson’s office. Just like the electricity in Kitgum that switches off without warning, the generator suddenly ceases to function while we're in the middle of the interview. So it's back into the truck and off to our office to find a replacement. The replacement generator works for about an hour, then it gives out too. Again, I climb back into the truck. This goes on until nearly noon, when finally we locate a generator that works and stays working. The schedule of interviews for the day has to be rearranged, but somehow we manage to fit everything in. It’s a wrap on day one of filming.
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