I am finally here in Kampala, Uganda! I say "finally" because it took nearly 2 and half days of travel to arrive at the Entebbe International Airport and around an hour to drive into the capital city. While the flight was sometimes painful (14 hours, non-stop), the drive was an amazing introduction to the Ugandan lifestyle for four of us on the delegation. We passed Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River and drove past groves of banana trees. Ugandan music blared from cars and from tiny stores on the sides of the road, where teenagers and children seemed to run from shop to shop. Dusty brick red roads dipped into valleys and hills all around the main highway, leading to rectangular concrete homes with laundry hanging in the breeze. The sides of the highways were very busy with children selling tomatoes, pineapples, and vegetables.
Most of the shops we passed were painted bright pink, yellow or green and their slogans boasted "we can keep you in touch", or " we are everywhere you go". After a while, I began to realize that these ubiquitous buildings were cell phone companies. Sometimes, the same brand would be across the street from each other! Cell phones are extremely popular here, since they are much cheaper than landlines and just like in the US, major brands offer promotions package to sign on new customers.
Kampala is bustling city with nearly 3 million people and Uganda's overall population is about 30 million. Originally Kampala was comprised of 7 hills but today there are 21 hills, partly because development has boomed in the last 10 years. Additionally the fertility rate in Uganda is amongst the highest in the world, with the average woman giving birth to 6 or more children. A population surge like this can be destabilizing because the younger the country's population, the more able-bodied fighters are available to fuel conflicts in the region. In Uganda, 60% of households are headed by someone 18 years old or younger. Clearly, teen pregnancies contribute to these sobering statistics and indicate the need for reproductive health education.
Hearing these numbers and facts was overwhelming but it's important to understand that many groups have worked successfully in providing prevention and treatment in Uganda. Tomorrow afternoon, the delegation will visit a NGO that specifically works with the youth to educate about HIV/STI/ and teen pregnancy prevention. This particular group reaches out to teen commercial sex workers (usually female) and helps empower them with jobs in addition to leading health intervention.
Many buildings and billboards in Kampala are advertisements to buy Coca-Cola or Nestlé's milk, but others are public health posters. One member of the delegation pointed out her favorite of an old man and a quote hovering near him- "Do you want this man to stop sleeping with your daughter? Then why do you sleep with his?" This poster is part of a campaign to stop older men from seeking out younger women and another poster clearly stated "no cross generational sex". Most of these posters are blunt, but I guess honesty about health is necessary to promote safe behaviors and reaches out to everyone. I'll keep an eye out for these public health fliers and hope to include a picture in an upcoming blog...