By Judy Lynch The Afro News Surrey
Margaret Mary Ajiko knew she wanted to be a nun when she was in Senior 4 at Sacred Heart Girls’ school in Gulu, Uganda. She was drawn to the kindness and grace of the nuns and had a desire to serve God and help others.
Margaret was the 3rd girl of seven daughters born to her father, an agricultural officer and respected farmer of Soroti in northeast Uganda. Her decision to join a convent was initially met with disappointment by her father, as Margaret showed such promise and he felt she would waste her potential. But Margaret was determined, and followed secondary school with three years of nun’s training, Her first assignment was as caregiver to the sick nuns in the convent which confirmed her heart for working with the sick.. Her S6 results qualified her to join Makerere University as a government-sponsored student, where Sister Margaret went on to do medical training, with an internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nsambia. She then worked as Medical Superintendent at Kitovu Hospital in Masaka, followed two years later with a Masters in Surgery at Makerere University and Mulago Hospital in Kampala.
During this period, life was anything but easy for her family, who lost their livestock, possessions and home during the war in northern Uganda, fleeing Soroti to Tororo for protection, considering themselves fortunate to find a shipping container on monastery grounds to live in for 8 of those years. Margaret found herself unexpectedly caring for 7 of her nieces and nephews, who were provided a room at the convent, and for whom she still remains responsible.
Following graduation as a surgeon , Dr. Sister Margaret Ajiko was posted again at Kitovu Hospital in Masaka, a privately run district missionary hospital. She was actively involved in teaching medical students and became an Executive member of the Assoc of Surgeons of Uganda.
Work at the district hospital was demanding. Uganda does not pay doctors well and many leave to practice elsewhere. Those who stay are overworked and underpaid. With extreme poverty and cultural superstitions, many postpone seeing a doctor until their case is severe. Sister Margaret’s surgical skills were quickly put to the test, routinely dealing with cases doctors in the West don’t often see, including vaginal fistulas, ruptured uterus, gangrenous organs, amputations, complications from typhoid, malaria, and uncontrolled diabetes.
With limited medical or lab equipment available to assist with diagnoses, Margaret’s clinical assessment skills grew. However, no amount of training prepared Margaret for the conditions she faced when she was transferred from Masaka to the Regional Referral Hospital in her home town of Soroti, where she now serves.
The conditions at first seemed overwhelming. The single operating theatre has cracked, broken floors, making it difficult to clean; the roof leaks, causing shocks when operating in the rain. There is no running water for scrubbing in theatre. Operating tables are non-adjustable; supplies and theatre instruments are limited. When patients require surgery, the family must purchase all required supplies, based on a list provided by the doctor, including sutures, rubber gloves, and medicines, which are carried in a bag into surgery with the patient. There is one single light in the operating theatre and no stand-by generator. Due to power load sharing, the electricity goes off regularly without warning, at times resulting in the loss of lives. Margaret recalls surgeries performed with a flashlight or even by the light of a mobile phone. There is no blood bank, incubators, Cat scan, little lab equipment, or any of the machinery so heavily relied upon in North America. A shortage of Xray films and chemicals renders the Xray machine ineffective. A manual auger is used to drill into the skull for brain hemorrhages; razor blades are split in two to share; remnants of sutures are saved as they are precious. There are too few beds to accommodate patients; and bed linens are scarce.
It is a challenging post. The days are long and days off few. It is a public hospital; most doctors augment their meagre income by taking on rounds at nearby private hospitals, so the Soroti Regional Referral Hospital, which serves 6 surrounding districts, is understaffed. Sister Margaret performs her medical/surgical duties, all the while teaching new interns. Her reliance upon God and her desire to help those in need, keeps her going. With each realization that she has helped to save a life, Margaret says “it gives me such joy; it makes me so happy”.
Margaret was recently invited by the University of Calgary to present a paper on perforated typhoid ulcers, which was followed by a one month visit to Vancouver, BC. Through some “divine appointments” Margaret was put in touch with various persons with access to medical supplies. Canadian friends are now working on putting together a container of medical equipment to ship to Soroti. The Ministry of Health in Uganda has promised to help with transport within Africa. With this international cooperation, Margaret is anticipating improvements to the medical care available in Soroti.
If you would like to help or are aware of spare medical equipment, please contact Judy at 778-385-3225. email: email@example.com