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Ugandans check out Clinics in a Can in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at 12:02 a.m.

Five Ugandan defense ministry officials and other representatives from the African nation are visiting Wichita this week to see if a locally based mobile health clinic initiative is a viable option for their country.

“It is a very good idea because the nature of problems we are facing are migratory,” said Brig. Dr. James Makumbi, chief of medical services and presidential adviser for the Uganda People’s Defense Force, the country’s military.

“We can’t afford to continue building a (permanent) structure wherever, so we need a mobile unit we can place in the area and start working immediately.”

The mobile units, called Clinics in a Can, were started in 2004 by an organization called Hospitals of Hope.

Founder Michael Wawrzewski, a physician assistant at Wesley Medical Center, aimed to build medical clinics inside shipping containers for easier transport to remote and disaster-stricken areas.

The standard 40-foot shipping containers can run on diesel generators or solar energy and hold their own water supplies. They cost between $45,000 and $50,000, in addition to shipping, and can be outfitted as family practice, OB/GYN, surgery or emergency clinics.

So far, Hospitals of Hope has sent three clinics to South Sudan and seven to Haiti. Another clinic is set to go to Haiti in the next few months.

“It’s a turn-key kind of solution,” Wawrzewski said. “The issues we run into are, No. 1, a lack of facilities that are modern or a lack of infrastructure to begin with and, No. 2, equipment.”

In the past, Clinics in a Can, a sister organization to Hospitals of Hope, has partnered with other nonprofits and foundations to fund the clinics, but now they’re starting to work with governments to purchase them for their country.

“We have had a great amount of interest, and most of this is coming from those developing countries where infrastructure is a major problem,” Wawrzewski said.

The organization is also consulting with the U.S. government to possibly bring Clinics in a Can to U.S. embassies, said Daniel White, Hospitals of Hope international missions coordinator.

Uganda is surrounded by conflict in nearby countries such as Somalia, Congo and Sudan, Makumbi said, and civilians make up 75 to 80 percent of the patients they currently see in the field.

“The people who suffer most in areas of insecurity are civilians,” Makumbi said. “We also have another problem of landslides.”

The next step for the Ugandan delegation upon their return is creating a report for the Ministry of Defense and assessing their budget.

While visiting Wichita, the officials toured Wesley Medical Center and met with area medical providers, representatives of Cessna and Mayor Carl Brewer.

They also met with representatives from U.S.-based medical and pharmaceutical supply companies, said Tricia Erickson, Hospitals of Hope communications coordinator.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at kryan@wichitaeagle.com or 316-269-6752.

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