An Evening Under The Stars in Rural Uganda
Tonight, instead of heading home, the residents of Mucwini camp are gathering in front of the health center to watch a movie. They're here to see an educational video produced by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to raise awareness about the dangers of hepatitis E, a virus that's spread via contaminated food and water.
Since the first cases of hepatitis E were reported in Kitgum district in November 2007, nearly 9,000 people have fallen ill and 141 have died. Mucwini sub-county which houses Mucwini camp has been particularly hard hit, with 1,401 reported cases, and 24 deaths.
It's difficult to prevent such disease outbreaks when hundreds of thousands of people live in crowded camps with insufficient toilets, clean drinking water or health centers. Conditions are not much better for those living outside of the camps. But the IRC is hard at work improving conditions and has been leading the response to the outbreak of hepatitis E.
Yolanda Barbera, IRC's senior technical health coordinator explains: "IRC teams staffed health centers, provided essential medical supplies, dug latrines, installed hand washing facilities, and launched a campaign to educate the community about avoiding certain behaviors that could leave them susceptible to the virus."
A central component of that campaign is the video, which stresses the proper do's and don'ts to avoid the virus. Two film vans — specially converted pickup trucks — are currently showing the movie at two different locations each evening. They invite local residents to joint them as they put up the screen, turn on the projector, and roll the tape.
Kelly Kisarach, one of IRC's health managers in Kitgum, says: "Chief among our concerns was developing a way to get our message to reach as many people as possible. Many in Kitgum have begun moving out of the larger camps into smaller ones, while others are choosing to return home. Because the population is dispersed, this presents a great challenge to containing the outbreak. A video was the logical response and the IRC is happy to provide support to the film vans so that it's seen by as many people as possible."
If this evening in Mucwini is any indication, the video is certainly getting people's attention. Nearly 300 children, parents, elders, and local politicians have gathered under a spectacular night sky. Children nudge past parents to grab front-row seats, as those who arrive late stand on tiptoes to get a better view.
And the messages seem to be getting through. Oryem Franco, 31, says: "The video shows us how important it is to wash our hands before eating and after using latrines." While Acilro Maurine, 22, offers her take: "It taught me the different ways I can get hepatitis E and what I should do to avoid it. I learned a lot and I think the people in this community learned a lot too. The majority of people here are trying to change their behavior. This [video] will certainly help them."
Funding for the educational video was provided by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).