Miria is one of three nurses currently being sponsored by Jamie’s Fund to train as a Psychiatric Clinical Officer (PCO). This course is only offered at the Butabika training school, part of the national psychiatric hospital, near Kampala. This is about four hours by bus from her home where her husband has to care for 3 children in her absence. Miria is part way through her first year of the three year course.
In a country with few psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, local mental health services are usually developed and led by PCOs. After training, these Jamie’s Fund PCOs will go back to their hospitals and get working to develop services in their communities!
As has been the case for many in education across the world, Miria feels frustrated that government restrictions to limit the spread of Covid 19 in Uganda have meant that all the universities and training schools have been closed since March this year. Like many other students and trainees, she has been sent home with lecture notes to study and course work to complete. Yet her tutors have been unable to offer any support and guidance. Access to reliable internet is another challenge, made worse by the increased demand on mobile data systems by all those trying to work or study from home. Add to that the familiar situation of trying to meet the needs of the whole family whilst everyone is confined to home. Not easy.
When I spoke to Miria in July, she was still praying to return to her course, but had no word on when that might be possible.
Q: What inspired you to do this training? – It was the mhGAP* course in 2018, it inspired me very much. Although I already tried to help when I saw patients with mental illness, I had no training and did not know what should be done. After mhGAP my colleague Patrick and I really understood a lot more, and we told the hospital management how the staff should pick out and handle these cases! And now we have trained other staff at the hospital in mhGAP.
Q: What have been the challenges? – It is hard to be far from my family. I miss my children. My husband has had to become mummy and daddy. But they all support me, always. My first born prays for me when I am away, ‘Let mummy pass her exams’…And the food is not good, only posho (maize meal with a dough-like consistency) and beans!…I felt lost when I first went there, but I have been getting good results in the tests, and now I am more confident.
Q: What has been good about the training? – There were no surprises, really, I was already used to these patients. I like working with people with depression, especially with risk of suicide, I have the heart for these people. I am proud to have been helping the inpatients, and learning new skills too. I have made new friends among the other students. We mostly help each other, and we relax together.
Q: Anything else? – Only that I feel bad about losing all this time. Studying at home is not the same, you do not have the same motivation, and there is nobody to ask if you do not understand.
Linda Shuttleworth. 6 August 2020.
*mhGAP is a World Health Organisation (WHO) programme to train non-specialist health staff to identify and treat the common presentations of mental ill health. Jamie’s Fund has been supporting the roll out of this training since 2018.