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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Take home message

Day fourteen - Stick out like sore thumbs

We hang around doing paperwork and emails although Uganda has terrible internet access, or at least for me. We go to a restaurant near the airport and spend a few hours working. Erin and I go to a beach club. We are the only non-Ugandans there so stick out like sore thumbs. But that's not a problem as people in Uganda are laid back.

Uganda Kiboga health centre


Days fifteen to seventeen - Frantic days

These are the last frantic days of the workshop. We are trying to desperately catch up on any lost time.

As expected, the first few days in the previous week took a while to warm up. Now there is pressure to finish the design document in time...or at least the main body and budget. It's frantic during the day and frantic at night as we get all design products trimmed and ready.

At the last day of workshop we have actually got something that looks good and we can be proud of. It is a Ugandan document. As outsiders we have been able to advise and honour the donor requirements but not take over.  There is a photo opportunity and final prayers. Then my colleagues fly off while I have another day to go before I catch my flight

Uganda Kiboga health centre

Days eighteen - Chimpanzee sanctuary

I spent the morning watching chimpanzees. There was one chimp looking a bit isolated and miserable. It looked at the leaflet and saw that there was indeed a chimp who suffered from depression. This day was taking me to a whole new world of mental health –chimp mental health.

I write this on my last day in Uganda at Entebee airport. I can’t say I have endured any hardships here even if power and internet is unreliably. Uganda is a beautiful country and is secure. The people have been kind and gracious hosts. They are committed to improving mental health. Nodding disease is becoming a real concern and time will tell what happens with this bizarre disease and its increasing cases in the North district.

This morning I walked down to the lapping shores of Lake Victoria. This is an idyllic place. The weather is warm and really perfect.

As I walk down the corridor in the hotel, in front of me is a typical view.  There are about five small groups working mostly in French on domestic violence, agriculture, Malawians with fisheries, Bangladeshi soldiers. We have had a weekend of pentacostalists at the Hotel. Its NGO land in this hotel...and Russia.

So this blog is not about “exciting” clinical work or training but about being stuck in a classroom effectively talking through paperwork and money. It doesn’t sound exciting. However I think that because we have participated in such a tight design document  the project has a great chance of success and will really make a difference to Uganda. The idea of the user groups being such a core part of the project was a real surprise to me and seemed really interesting and translatable.

The other thing I learned about was interpersonal therapy which I had never really understood before. It has significant evidence base. A practitioner explained it to me and all those I spoke to who use it in Uganda seem to love it. Patients love it. It is used for depression primarily. In Uganda mainly it is used as group work. It was a big take home message for me in CBT UK. 

It was a pleasure being part of this process and I thank the Ugandan Ministry of Health, World Vision Australia, WHO and all my professional colleagues for this experience - I learnt a lot from them. Take home messages I got were the value of careful planning of projects, user groups, interpersonal therapy and the value of a strong mental health advocate in the Government.

I'm both fascinated and confident that this project will be a success.

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Re: Take home message
Really enjoyed these articles on Uganda. I'm a South African doctor but moving to Uganda soon so reading everything I can find online about their mental health system. Thank you. Would like to exchange a few emails if possible, if you're willing. If not then thanks anyway for the posts.
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About this blog

Dr Peter Hughes - consultant psychiatrist








Dr Peter Hughes is a consultant psychiatrist based at Springfield University Hospital, London. He has an interest in international psychiatry and has been travelling to Africa over the last five years doing short-term assignments in mental health.He has recently flown to Uganda to work on a mental health programme. This is a personal account of Dr. Peter Hughes' volunteer mission with Who and World Vision Australia.


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