Over a year ago, AWF raised funds to award a grant to the Bwindi Community Hospital meant for providing healthcare to the Batwa community who lives in the area.
The incredible progress the hospital has made in improving access to health for this marginalized indigenous community is a source of great joy for us. Every step towards assisting the Batwa in breaking through the marginalization they have suffered strengthens us in our mission of allyship with Indigenous Peoples.
And, as included in the WHO Constitution, "…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being" must be respected and upheld.
Nurse Adiisa Davis has been providing healthcare to the Batwa settlements, delivering medication, educating Batwa volunteers on healthcare practices and monitoring health indicators. While working on this project, Andiisa was also kind enough to answer the questions we sent him about the program and its impact.
According to Davis, one of the project's most significant achievements so far is "a positive change in attitude towards the use of modern healthcare." A breakthrough in changing mentalities, as the Batwa were often hesitant to seek medical treatment because of the marginalization they endured in the past in seeking care in Ugandan hospitals and clinics. Andiisa points out that "seeking health care when sick and also complying to medical guidance and cooperation with health workers." But still, he also notes "increased levels of poverty and lack of enough funds for support" as the most significant obstacles to the Batwa accessing the healthcare they need.
Pregnant women have been particularly receptive to this renewed trust in Bwindi Community Hospital's programs. As a result, 99% of expectant mothers delivered their babies at the hospital, a health indicator that Andiisa proudly highlighted, along with a decrease in mortality due to minor and avoidable diseases among this community.
Despite these improvements, Davis does not overlook all that must happen to restore this trust fully. One of the strategies he proposes is "to use expert patients in Batwa communities to convey messages about how modern medicine works."
Along with difficulty conciliating traditional beliefs with modern medicine, the fear of incurring costs they cannot afford is always present—most people in these communities live in extreme poverty. Davis points out that "setting up income-generating activities like animal rearing" and "programs aimed at alleviating poverty among the Batwa" is an essential step to overcoming these obstacles.
Additionally, "support of formal education among the Batwa should be encouraged," and "direct involvement of cultural and religious leaders in promoting health programs delivered by government and other institutions" should be encouraged.
The goal is to facilitate the conditions for the Batwa to enable themselves to assist the members of their communities. That's why "involving Batwa in managing their health issues, empowering the community and other health workers from their communities" is such an essential step.
There's no simple way to describe or explain how eviction affects Indigenous Peoples. Non-indigenous people can hardly grasp such a profound connection to the land. An "abrupt change of culture with no or little alternative ways of living" has led to an "abrupt exposure to effects of globalization causing a lot of mental stress," especially when "stigmatization and discrimination by local communities" is an everyday reality for the Batwa." [Neighboring] communities don't believe that [eviction] was the primary driver of their situation of vulnerability," and they often point to the Batwa's traditional beliefs as the cause for the state of their community's health.
Our partnership with Davis and the Bwindi Community Hospital makes us very proud and hopeful as we look forward to furthering it. The struggle of the indigenous Batwa is a sobering reminder of how indigenous communities all over the world are often put in situations of extreme vulnerability and denied their fundamental human rights. Helping to advance healthcare among these communities is a small step towards protecting their lives and culture. Still, we're committed to participating in that process and will keep you posted as the project evolves.
We are an ally to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities dealing with matters of access to Health and Water and the protection of the right to maintain traditional ways of living in harmony with Nature.