"Creating Healthier Families and Communities: Mbarara Mothers Project traces its roots to 2007, when a team of scholars and health care providers, including Kyomugisha, identified a need for a dedicated children’s hospital in Uganda, where no such institution yet existed."
Gender and Women’s Studies Associate Professor Florence Kyomugisha has been selected as a 2011/12 University Research Fellow, one of nine faculty members—one from each College and the University Library—appointed per cycle. Representing the College of Humanities, Dr. Kyomugisha will dedicate the additional time and resources allocated by the fellowship, commencing in Fall 2011, to continue her work in Uganda, where she is researching nutrition information, provisional challenges, and effective skills-building interventions among mothers and children.
Creating Healthier Families and Communities: Mbarara Mothers Project traces its roots to 2007, when a team of scholars and health care providers, including Kyomugisha, identified a need for a dedicated children’s hospital in Uganda, where no such institution yet existed. “Children cannot be treated simply as little adults,” Kyomugisha says. “Children are more vulnerable to dehydration, malnutrition, and respiratory infections, and they need professionals who specialize in pediatric care.”
That initial goal was realized in 2009 in Mbarara District, Kyomugisha’s childhood home, where Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital became the first major medical facility in the country focused exclusively on the particular challenges faced by children. Today, the 120-bed hospital treats 900 outpatients and 300 inpatients monthly thanks to its experienced team of Ugandan doctors, nurses, and volunteers; project partners and donors in the United States; and support from Mbarara community members.
But Kyomugisha’s mission certainly didn’t end there. HICH has enabled doctors to document the abnormally high rates of preventable diseases they witness among their young patients—diseases largely attributed to widespread malnutrition, which leaves children with underdeveloped immune systems. HICH’s health care providers have observed that a troubling number of children become ill, and many die, not because their nutritional needs cannot be met but because their mothers aren’t equipped with the knowledge or resources to meet their specific needs. Many Ugandan families rely on subsistence farming, the primary economy of Mbarara District, leaving them only with the food they can grow on their land, which often results in a mono diet: for example, a grain such as millet made into a thin porridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Kyomugisha, whose body of academic research focuses on health issues in women and minority populations, notes that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 50% of the world’s child mortality burden while constituting only 11% of its population. Furthermore, Kyomugisha says, the UN Millennium Development Goal found in 2010 that 6 million of the 11 million children who die each year could be saved by “low-tech, cost-effective measures such as simple nutrition interventions.” In Mbarara alone—a district with an estimated population of 450,000— 13,000 children under age 5 die each year, most from illnesses such as malaria, dysentery, and pneumonia, diseases that have largely been eradicated or are far less likely to result in fatality elsewhere.
Compounding the difficulties of managing their children’s illnesses, Ugandan mothers find themselves unable to tend the crops necessary to feed their families. Many are faced with a choice between traveling with one sick child to the hospital, where they often must stay to provide needed breast milk, or remaining at home to ensure their other children are fed and cared for. Illness and poverty fuel one another in Uganda, locking its population in a cycle wherein even the $2.48 yearly cost of treating malaria is out of reach to most families.
With her fellowship, Kyomugisha looks forward to tackling the dire but changeable consequences of widespread malnutrition. Employing a mixed-methods public health and feminist approach, Kyomugisha’s project examines the social, economic, and cultural realities within which mothers feed their children; determines to what extent information, healthy practices, and skills-building interventions in nutrition will enable mothers to maintain health practices and well-being for their families; and explores the health care resources necessary in their community to maintain healthier living. She will conduct her research with mothers whose children are being treated at HICH, finding them at a teachable moment for effective intervention.
It is Kyomugisha’s hope that her research can serve as a model to arrest and reverse the ever-rising trend of deadly diseases in neighboring sub- Saharan African nations. Kyomugisha also sees ample opportunity to involve CSUN students, not only by bringing her experience into the classroom but by inviting them to participate in service learning at HICH, which is equipped to provide room and board to international students who volunteer their services.
“Dr. Kyomugisha’s research exemplifies the global and intersectional focus of gender, race, class, and sexuality [that] we foreground in our Department,” says Dr. Sheena Malhotra, Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies. “This award will allow her to travel to Uganda and work with women in Mbarara on health education, contributing her expertise and learning from a community with which she has a long-term association. We believe her work reflects the best possibilities of a global citizenry we value so highly in the Humanities.”
— Submitted by Teresa K. Morrison