Tuesday, March 10, 2015

One Show's Alex Jones helps seal Comic Relief salvation for 'Africa's worst clinic'

A rat-infested, under-staffed and over-crowded clinic struggling to serve a village in the middle of nowhere might seem an unlikely preoccupation for a newly-engaged celebrity who dould otherwise be imagining honeymoon destinations.
And yet The One Show presenter Alex Jones is keen to get back to the eastern Ugandan village of Iyolwa after a quick-fit Comic Relief-aided overhaul of a life-saving local asset.

For the past few weeks teams of both specialists and untrained village volunteers have been working day and night to build a new hospital on the site of the dilapidated husk prevoiosly just about standing.
Comic Relief visitors - including celebs such as Alex and charity co-founder Lenny Henry - were initially dismayed by babies delivered on grubby concrete, rodents scurrying around and nurses working 24-hour shifts.
The clinic lacked electricity as well as running water and frequently had to turn away families desperate for urgent treatment, with staff describing it as ‘the worst clinic in Africa’.
And yet, after an intense effort on the ground and generous backing from British viewers, Operation Health looks like proving a triumph.
That is, a mission - revealed in Metro last month - to construct a far better-equipped newhospital in little more than two months and has now hit its target of Red NoseDay this Friday.
In this, Comic Relief’s 30th year, the Iyolwa project is unprecedented both in its short-term, target-led timing but also the high-profile effort to demonstrate just how directly donors’ contributions can be spent.
Lenny found one nurse, Dorothy, who delivered eight babies in one day before returning home in the middle of the night and giving birth to her own.
Alex encountered very similar heroism at a nearby hospital where staff are trying desperately to cope with the overspill from Iyolwa - and where another nurse, Angela, brought nine newborns into the world during one 24-hour shift.
Medics remain on duty all day and all night at the few healthcare bases there are in the region, snatching brief naps in corridors only as and when they can.
Yet the Iyolwa clinic is not only a maternity unit but also meant to be the healthcare hub for 20,000 living nearby, whatever their ailments, injuries and associated needs.
Alex said: ‘The clinic is central to the community - everyone here has had dealings with it.
‘But there have been women wanting to give birth there only to find they couldn’t, or parents bringing in children for treatment only to find the place just too dirty.
‘Now everyone is in it together, though - welcoming the Comic Relief backing and pitching in to make sure this job gets done.’
It’s heartbreaking to see how bad conditions were but it’s brilliant to see something really positive taking shape now - and a fantastic example to other places across Uganda and Africa.’
She visited the village in late-January and has since featured individual stories and fund-raising appeals on The One Show, already attracting hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations.
‘It gives you an idea of how bad the clinic was, that even those who were used to it and were in desperate need were saying it had become just too dirty and under-staffed.’ she recalled.
‘But everyone in the area has been working like Trojans since then and the progress has been phenomenal.
‘It makes you wonder what the builders we have over here in Britain are doing with themselves.
‘And everyone I met was utterly grateful to the generosity of the British public, always so impressive year after year.
‘I’ve spoken to the teams working on the project out there and they’ve been blown away with how much it just seems to have captured the imagination.’
Following her six-day visit earlier this year, Alex - who announced her engagement to insurance broker Charlie Thomson last month on-air - added: ‘I would love to go back to Iyolwa.’
You only realise just how fantastic these are when you’re out there up close.’
Last year for Sport Relief she climbed Utah’s 1,200ft Moonlight Buttress and is looking forward to any further missions for either Sport or Comic Relief, vowing: ‘I’m happy to pitch in in any way I can.
‘Every year the total raised goes higher and higher - and Iyolwa is tangible and inspiring proof of that money being put to great use.’

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