I’m in Kampala, Uganda for a two-day meeting on male circumcision for HIV prevention, organized by the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are people here from all over Africa and the rest of the world to discuss the topic. Circumcision is a hot subject right now, after 3 randomized controlled studies showed that it reduced female to male transmission by about 50 percent.
It was a long trip over here: Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Brussels, Brussels to Bujumbura (that’s the capital of Burundi in case you were wondering) and then on to Entebbe, the international airport outside of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, which is mostly known as the site of a daring rescue by the Israel Defense Forces in 1976. Shockingly everything on my trip went smoothly and 30 hours after leaving my house I was at my hotel.
My preparation for the trip began a few weeks ago. Although my primary care physician didn’t think I needed to take any precautions, I decided to second guess him and visit the BIDMC’s travel clinic, where I was persuaded to get the Yellow Fever vaccine, typhoid vaccine and to take malaria prophylaxis. I think it was the right thing to do.
I had read on Uganda’s website that a visa could be obtained upon arrival at Entebbe, but I had a scare late last week when I was told by conference organizers that a visa had to be obtained ahead of time. It was too late to send my passport away, so I called the Uganda embassy in Washington, which told me that it was “advisable” to get the visa beforehand because I might be denied boarding by my airline otherwise. I then called American Airlines and was assured that all would be ok. Still, I was nervous because I was transferring to Brussels Airlines once I got to Europe. Thankfully there was no problem and I obtained my visa upon arrival, just like several other people. It didn’t even take any extra time.
When we landed in Bujumbura it was almost completely dark all around. It’s pretty shocking compared to landing in a US, European or Asian destination. I saw a mosquito on the plane, buzzing around my seat. I really don’t want to get malaria so I put on some DEET that I brought along.
When we landed at Entebbe there were plenty of bugs flying around between the plane and the terminal and in the terminal itself. I met up with a couple of other people attending the conference and a driver took us to our hotel, about 40 minutes away. Apparently that road is choked up during regular hours. Luckily it was about midnight when we arrived.
The Kampla Serena Hotel where I’m staying is first rate. Only problem is that they were overbooked. Somehow I got a room and my two companions were shunted off to a nearby, lower class place. Actually, I’m quite sure there was at least one more room available, and that the manager was lying to us. That’s because he first tried to get the other man in our group and me to share a room, saying there were two double beds. However, my room has a king bed. I really wonder whether this hotel wants to upset the Gates Foundation. It may not be a wise move.
Anyway, my room is very modern except that it lacks a clock. Otherwise it has all the amenities including A/C, two desks, wireless and wired Internet access, fancy bathroom, balcony, etc. In the bathroom there is a can of insect killer. First I sprayed it into the air over my bed, then a few minutes later I saw a mosquito in the bathroom and blasted it out of the sky with the same spray. (I had to hit him twice.)
By the time I got to bed it was about 2 am local time, and I had to get up a few hours later. Fortunately, I feel pretty good today and don’t think any mosquitoes bit me while I was asleep.March 13, 2008