This week Gerald Kitabu interviewed the health committee chairperson of Mvuna Island in Lake Tanganyika, Safi King, on various health issues in the Island. Excerpts:
QUESTION: Mvuna Island is one of the islands in Lake Tanganyika having no health facilities, how do you survive?
ANSWER: Mvuna residents have lived without a dispensary since independence and the way I see it there is no plan to build one in the near future because the government does not know much about the island. Many things are decided by the nearby Mandakerenge island which claims that Mvuna is part of it although we are far apart, almost 20 to 30 minutes sailing by canoe.
Last year, the island marked 100 years without social services including health facilities. Mvuna island is made up of six areas which are Kifuru, Balagomwa, Camp, Maenga, Kimesha and Mvuna.
Q: How do you get health services?
A: It's a big problem here because there is no dispensary even a pharmacy for obtaining necessary drugs. We usually go to Kirando Health Centre (KHC) for treatment and for those who are a bit well-off they go to Namanyere District Hospital in Nkansi district, which is well equipped with modern facilities. But it is very far, some 70 kilometres.
Q: Suppose a person suffers at night, what do you do?
A: There is no way, we opt for traditional medicines to rescue his or life. However, residents of this Island are united, when there is a patient who needs immediate care and attention, we normally contribute some money and hire a canoe to ferry him or her to Kirando Health Centre.
However, there is another problem: Kirando Health centre has acute shortage of drugs. A patient who is suffering from diarrhea or cholera, for example, he or she may be given panadol which does not help. Another problem is that hiring a canoe is very expensive.
It usually costs between 30,000/- to 45,000/- and it takes one hour to reach Kirando. As for pregnant women, it is a different story because labour pains may start any time when there is no canoe, so many opt to deliver at home with support from traditional birth attendants.
Q: What about babies?
A: As for young babies, their growth and survival depends on God’s will. God is great, and Mvuna island has developed traditional medicine derived from coconut trees. For example, when the baby suffers, we usually give him or her coconut juice. It is very good medicine, safe and rich in nutrients.
If it is used regularly, it also helps babies to speak early and develop strong teeth. That’s why you see each island here has coconut trees for that purpose. If you want to quarrel with residents of Mvuna island, try to cut down these trees!
Q: What kind of diseases are common here?
A: There are many diseases but the common ones are diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid and cholera. These diseases kill many people living in or along the lake. The lake's water is not safe; it is normally contaminated with decomposed animals and other wastes. So, many people drink without boiling it.
Q: What measures have you taken so far?
A: On June 8 this year, the island formed a health committee which I am the chairperson. The committee is tasked to enforce laws and ensure that all residents clean their compounds. However, the island has already communicated with the government through the Kirando Health Centre management and government authorities have promised to to work on the matter.
Q: What is your call?
A: Government should build a dispensary in the island to rescue people. I call upon Mvuna residents to observe health regulations. If all people adhere to these rules, obviously we shall fight the common diseases of diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid and cholera.