How do you think a doctor from Cumbria spends his holidays? Skiing in Scotland? Bathing off the beach at Blackpool? Cruising in the Caribbean?

Not Dr Simon Kaye, a GP from Kirkby Lonsdale on the edge of the English Lake District. Every year he goes with his wife and other volunteers to the town of Bombo in a remote region of Uganda about 20 miles (32km) north of the capital Kampala. 

Here, he spends up to three weeks a year working with the charity CRMI-Children of Hope running walk-in health clinics for up to 200 patients a day. It’s a far cry from Cumbria or the beach at Blackpool, although he admits that there are some similarities. ‘You know,’ says Simon ‘doctors the world over deal mostly with the same problems – coughs, colds and chronic illnesses.’ 

But he admits that there are a few more challenges for his patients in Bombo than there are for people in Cumbria. 

Beautiful but remote 

Bombo is only a short distance from Kampala as the crow flies, but the roads make travel difficult and the region is fairly remote. As Simon says: ‘The land is beautiful and fertile but the roads are red dust, which makes transport difficult. The usual means of getting around is on foot or if they can afford it by ‘boda-boda’ (motorbike taxi). He adds that, for many local people, paying the price for a 20-mile journey to a health centre can be ‘as impossible as going to the moon’. 

Bombo has an estimated population of 26,000 (Ugandan Census 2014) but when Simon sets up his day clinics, such is the need for health care, and despite the transport problems, people come from a wide region around the town. Uganda has on average just 1 doctor per 10,000 people – and generally most medicines are not free.

Simon first visited Bombo in 2010 when he was invited by a personal friend at Kirkby Lonsdale’s Methodist Church to provide medical services at a school being set up by Children of Hope, part of Christian Restoration Ministries International (CRMI). The aim of CRMI is to find sponsors in the West for orphaned children in Uganda; to provide them with an education, health care and vocational training. 

Taking essential medicines 

Simon set off with two of IHP’s Essential Health Packs (EHPs), each containing over 800 medical treatments donated by IHP’s corporate pharmaceutical partners. In his first trip, there was an emphasis on providing MMR vaccinations and HIV testing alongside the delivery of healthcare supported by the EHPs.

On that first trip, the clinic was based in the school store room. Despite the rudimentary facilities, people came from miles around with a variety of ailments – either emergency cases, one-off infections or chronic illnesses. Common conditions in the region range from broken limbs to chest infections; intestinal parasites to diabetes, malaria to malnutrition. 

‘We recently helped a small baby called Rosie [not her real name] who was brought into the clinic by her father,’ says Simon. ‘Rosie weighed just 1.3kg and it was obvious that she was going to die sometime in the next 24 hours. We gave her glucose water and paid for a car to take her to the nearest hospital at Kiwoko. Thankfully she survived. It turns out that her father was caring for his wife full-time following an accident that had left her paralysed below the waist. As he was unable to work, they had no money. He was obviously a caring man but no money in Uganda means no food.’ 

Simon explains that most illnesses and conditions are caused by the environment or the conditions that people live in. ‘We treat many bone infections as a result of untreated fractures. This is an agricultural region and people suffer accidents at work and also from orthopaedic conditions due to harsh physical labour. With most homes using wood as a fuel for heating and cooking, the air is not particularly clean and so we treat a lot of chronic respiratory problems. Skin infections are also common as a result of sleeping on rough dirt floors.’ 

Clearly, there is a huge need for antibiotics and pain relief. With very limited access to health care in the country, there is also a demand for the kind of service that Simon and his colleagues provide. 

A family concern 

Following his first visit in 2010, Simon has returned to Bombo every year, expanding the services. In January and February 2018, he organised for four EHPs to be delivered to two clinics (a second was opened in nearby Nakaseke) and he was accompanied by four other doctors and five nurses. His wife Pauline, a teacher and voluntary youth worker at home, joins him on most trips and provides administrative and triage support. 

His daughter Emily, a trained psychiatrist, has also become involved over the years and there is a growing need to provide mental health support. The region suffered terribly during the civil war which ended in 1986 with victory for President Museveni. Simon says that ‘there is still a lot of healing to be done’. 

The secret of success 

Asked why his provision of health care in Bombo has grown and is so successful, Simon pays tribute to the work of CRMI and Children of Hope. ‘There are now two schools in Bombo and Nakaseke, providing education for over 350 sponsored children,’ he says. 

He adds that there is also a scheme to provide social housing, with four new homes built already – along with two boreholes providing clean water for the communities. ‘We were able to provide accommodation for Rosie’s family as a result of this scheme. Better housing and clean water leads to better health,’ he says: ‘It helps breaks the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.’ 

Having local partners also assists the programme. ‘Having an in-country contact is essential,’ says the doctor. ‘We are blessed to work with our Uganda-based team, with people helping with the recruitment of local volunteers and the shipping of the EHPs.’ 

Ah yes, the Essential Health Packs. These have provided the backbone of the service that Simon provides. ‘The EHPs are fantastic,” he says. “Well-stocked with antibiotics, pain killers, eye drops, skin creams and some long-term drugs, they provide everything we need.” 

From Kirkby Lonsdale to Kampala; Bombo instead of Blackpool – Dr Simon Kaye has probably treated over 6,000 patients in Uganda in the past eight years. Does he plan to retire from providing his essential aid or hand it over to someone else? 

“Currently I hope to continue serving the poor and needy of Bombo for several years yet – but it has been wonderful to watch the work grow and see many other people in the UK catch the vision and come and join us as we work alongside our wonderful Ugandan hosts.” 

Click here to find out more about Essential Health Packs.