the blood in your veins can do good for somebody else – go and donate NOW! (or tomorrow)

Blood! (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
A COUPLE of weeks ago my brother Paul erupted in the middle of a conversation with considerable irritation that the national blood bank had run out of a rare blood type and someone was drumming up a campaign to urgently find this blood for a patient.

His irritation was understandable; this was certainly not the first we were hearing of a patient in need of life-saving intervention and some rare blood type being in short supply.

But why, he asked, does the Blood Bank not keep a database of those people with that rare blood type and keep going to them for regular deposits? If I am not O- today and I can’t donate that blood type I still won’t be O- next year and will feel as helpless when there is another distress call!

He had a point, but the conversation went its merry way and life moved on till several days later my friend Kamara Ariho told me his uncle couldn’t undergo critical surgery because there was insufficient blood at the Blood Bank to call on in case something went awry during his procedure.

The family was working out ways of contributing blood but the procedure is not as straightforward as putting together money for drinks at a wedding. It is actually simpler, but requires more advance planning.

That’s where we are challenged – advance planning. And that was what was irritating both Paul and Kamara. But to the credit of the people in charge, there is a register of blood donors that gets called upon when needed.

In the past among the cards and paperwork I always had in my wallet was that little card they give you when you donate blood. When you present that little strip card to the blood bank you are given priority as a blood donor, should you be in need of blood – and I have used them a couple of times.

You have to plan in advance though because the blood you donate to a blood bank must be screened and tested and taken through other scientific steps I am not academically qualified to elaborate here.

But having gone through the donation and retrieval experiences many times myself I knew the anxiety families go through when they realise blood is suddenly needed. But even at that critical time, sadly, not many families rally round and become regular lifetime blood donors.

Another friend, Nada Andersen, annually makes pilgrimages to donate blood and keeps mobilising us to join her. This week I had blood on my mind when I got fed up of the high-brow analysis in one of my many WhatsApp groups where Kampala-based people dissect such things as John (Donald) Trump and his political beliefs and basic bad manners.

I interrupted their intellectual banter with a reminder that right here, just a few metres from all of our mobile phones, we could get together to solve a national blood bank issue rather than talk about Trump’s being a misogynist.

The seniormost officials in the Ministry of Health confirmed to me that there is, indeed, a shortfall in stocks of blood – for a variety of reasons including few donors and lack of certain sundries. Our annual need is 260,000 units but we only collected 240,000 last year.

Also, the shelf life of blood is 35 days only, so if we don’t consistently replenish the stocks then…(and that explains why sometimes there is an urgent need for the rare blood types).

Since in recent days a national debate has arisen over whether or not to refer to a certain court order as stupid, here are some clear candidates for the adjective: Anyone who discusses Trump and Brexit et al while riding around in this town at risk of finding themselves in urgent need of blood, and has never donated blood; Anyone who can donate money for a party activity but has never donated half a litre of blood that would be life-saving if said party activity results in a medical emergency; and so on and so forth in that vein (excuse pun).

To free myself of any such description, I went back this week and was pleased to find that the process is still quite easy and straightforward. Better still, computerization has now been introduced, so Paul’s irritation will decrease in future.

First of all, it’s not just a ‘Blood Bank’, we have seven Regional Blood banks at Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Kitovu, Mbale, Mbarara and Nakasero, and six blood collection centers in Hoima, Jinja, Kabale, Rukungiri, Lira and Soroti (says UBTS is the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service, headquartered in Nakasero where the Nakasero Blood Bank stands.

There are pleasant people there trying to do their jobs well, even though the toll free line listed on the website (0800122422) is currently out of service. That’s an opportunity right there for some telecommunications company to offer something right away.

As I dialled their listed land lines (the call attendant could do with some phone etiquette training) I realised that we all need to save the numbers in our phones because one day we might need them (0414259195/0414257155).

Imagine you one day need blood urgently and you are standing in a hospital corridor with panicked relatives all scrolling through phone books for help. Won’t you will feel silly seeing contacts of Rolex guys, mechanics, boda boda men and all the other day-to-day people you find important rather than the lifesavers?

The process, as I said, is quite simple. At Nakasero they have six beds so they can easily handle six people at a time at the drop of a hat, but if many more turn up then they will mobilise more beds and other equipment.

The ladies who handled me were courteous, strict and happy to be of service – insisting that I waited my full ten minutes while resting after I had donated, even though I claimed to be strong enough to up and go.

I liked the way they had decorated their treatment room with bits of Christmas tinsel

The little decorations that made me smile (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
and made a mental note to take them a Christmas gift at the end of the year – may even to all the Blood Banks. Those small gestures also make a difference in a way.

But I also hope for bigger differences in the way we do things as individuals and companies. I hope some restaurants or hotels, for instance, offer special discounts to people who present valid blood donation cards. After we have given blood, one of the items a donor is given is a soda and a biscuit or two (I declined, as I had carried a health drink of my own).

The soda and biscuit companies should wake up to a campaign where we get discounts if we present a valid blood donation card. The t-shirt and merchandising companies can also throw in a few gift items for donors, just to say ‘Thank you and come again!’ to people with valid blood donation cards.

The rest of you can take in a whole load of other things that would make it easier for those hard working people to collect more blood – even those foam squeezy balls that they give the blood donor to squeeze as the blood is flowing out into those bottles:

Strong veins, but focus on that squeezie foam ball for a bit & donate some? (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
I keep saying “valid blood donation card” because the rules say men can donate once every three months and women once every four months. Donating once in your lifetime is certainly NOT enough.

And this blood, as numerous stickers and flyers at the Blood Bank state, is FREE OF CHARGE. Nobody asks you to pay for it.

We can give more than just blood:

You and I can mobilise more people to donate blood; the UBTS Director, Dr. Dorothy Kyeyune, told me that NSSF ran a blood drive last week that collected more than 4,000 units of blood!


we all need to take these avian bird flu warnings seriously


I SPEND most of my mornings seated at a window where a vast number of birds of various species and sizes flitter past or stop and tap against the glass. We have a running joke that some of those birds are carrying messages from our dearly departed living in another world .

Because I have so many birds within close proximity, I took the Avian Bird Flu warnings this week pretty seriously. A friend of mine confessed that the day before the first warning she had picked up a dead bird herself, as she lives in an even busier bird corridor.

Uganda has about 1,078 species of birds (34 of which are threatened) making us a premium destination for birding, as these are more than half the number of species recorded globally. Some statistics also have it that the record for the number of species recorded in one week in a three week period is 665 – seen in Uganda.

Our poultry industry is thriving (not just because of the Rolex) though the best statistics I could find were from the UBOS (Uganda Bureau of Statistics) 2010 Report that estimated our national chicken population at 34.7million birds. A cursory check of the 2014 National Population and Housing Census finds no mention of the words ‘poultry’, ‘chicken’ or ‘bird(s)’. The word ‘Livestock’ appears only four (4) times.

The National Livestock Census Report of 2009, though, says 4.5million households rear at least one kind of livestock or poultry. By 2008 we had a national chicken flock of 32.8million birds.

And an IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) report of 2013 estimated that the value of poultry production in Uganda in 2009 was Ushs89billion. (This report also complains about lack of statistics).

So considering that Avian Bird Flu affects chicken as well as wild birds, we should not take this disease outbreak lightly. But we must not panic in our approach.

When it first appeared back in 2005 the Avian Bird Flu was devastating in Asia, and it showed up again in 2014 in the United States with alarming effects. I read somewhere once that across Asia fewer than 500 people died from having the disease, so that’s not the biggest problem – it is the economic death that is more worrying.

In the US by July 2015 (six months) about 26 million chickens and turkeys had died or been killed to keep the disease from spreading. But the US produces 9 billion chickens for meat, 360 million for eggs, and 240 million turkeys.

We cannot afford to lose such numbers.

In May 2015 the United States released US$330million in emergency funds to tackle the disease, on top of US$99million already spent on the disease when it broke out in 2014. They even deployed the National Guard to help with the efforts.

Asia’s 2005 crisis was feared to cost the affected economies between US$99billion and US$283billion off their GDP.

We certainly cannot command such amounts today.

Those economies are much more organised and focused most times, so we need to really pay attention and think like them now in some respects, while doing what we do best.

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing – and I was happy to hear from the Director General of Health Services, Prof. Anthony Mbonye, that the government had put together an inter-ministerial task force under the Prime Minister’s office (though the Ministry Website had not been updated by January 18, 2017 with this issue). They are working with the same tenacity that has made Uganda globally famous for handling Ebola and other serious pandemics here and as far out as West Africa.

But obviously we need to do more – you and I, as well as the government.

Again, do not panic. In one of my WhatsApp groups some people swore off chicken entirely. Unless you eat unhygienic chicken, please remain calm but be cautious and health-conscious.

Then, let’s think and plan every step of this carefully – including our communication. Our first communication targets should be the people on the frontline of poultry production – farmers (including domestic, subsistence ones) and processors alike. To reach them, we must know who they are – hence the need for serious statistics and information.

Every district should pull out the stops at collecting data on where all our domestic birds are and who is raising them. When we get to the point where poultry have to be killed to stop the disease spreading, there will be a need for compensation – we all know why records are important there.

Now is the time to take all statistics seriously and keep them up to date henceforth. I’ve seen a US Department of Agriculture file on the internet that details every case of the disease along with the individual bird that died – we should have the same from two weeks ago when this crisis began.

And thereafter, let’s put our information up onto the internet so that we give the world even more confidence in our capabilities at handling these disasters; we will have a good story to tell so let’s tell it louder than the disaster announcement.

This Avian Bird Flu is not as bad as Ebola, so we will get past it for sure – but this time let’s do so in a manner that INCREASES our profile so we get more opportunities come our way while not putting our existing ones at risk.

it is you – Uganda – so take what is yours!

MY neighbourhood in Kampala is quite active when it comes to community issues. In recent months, the range of issues has included road safety and personal security, both of which featured groups of skaters that nobody could readily identify as either residents or friends of residents.

We have had varied views about the skaters for a while – some more vehement than others.

And this week, immersed in a totally unrelated conversation many kilometres away from my neighbourhood and the skaters, I was relieved that no drastic action had been taken against the skaters.

The kaboozi took place within the KFM studios as I was waiting for a talk show to commence. One of the producers there, Sean Oseku, mentioned a skating ramp in Kitintale and went on with what he was saying but I failed to follow him.

“What do you mean ‘a skating ramp in Kitintale’?” I asked, incredulous. 

The skaters in my neighbourhood do not use a ramp; their high nuisance rating by some neighbours was partly because they were skating right on the road itself and presenting accident risks for motorists.

“There is a skating ramp in Kitintale…” Sean told me, and then gave me directions that really surprised me. He was talking about my neighbourhood skaters! They had a ramp?!

I normally see skating ramps in movies and countries like the United States where youths are encouraged to participate in such sports especially in communities where deliberate efforts are required to stop children being idle, because the adage says that gets the devil working.

The last time I saw one, though was at an event in Kololo, Kampala, when the Mega Dairy people erected a movable ramp as part of their stand next to mine, complete with child skaters. That had impressed me, and excited all the children in attendance.

And as Sean continued his tale he mentioned that Moses Byaruhanga, Presidential Political Assistant and proprietor of Mega Dairy, was one of the benefactors of the skaters – the Uganda Skateboard Union.
Marvelling at how small the world was turning out to be, I flicked open my tablet and sought out the actual topic of conversation.

Out there in the big, wide world is a musical hit doing quite well on the global charts that has garnered more than 1.8million YouTube views so far. The song is “Should’ve Been Me” by Naughty Boy, Kyla and Popcaan.

Right from the opening shot of the video I knew Uganda was involved. The little boy in the frame made me think immediately of Madina Nalwanga, of ‘Queen Of Katwe‘ fame. The rest of the video just finished me – including the bits shot in my neighbourhood!

There is something happening around and about Uganda that is giving us global prominence in a way we are almost not ready for. We need to wake up to what it all means.

The entire video is a cinematographic feel-good, dreams-can-come-true, triumph-amid-tribulation four and a half minutes that hits the mark dead-centre. It is Disney-ish yet not Disney. We have dust but also tarmac. We have poverty but hope and energy. Big boys give way to small boys, and encourage them. Even signs of menace turn out to be caring protection, as the Uganda Police characters in the shot are kindly guarding skateboards overnight.

There is something about Uganda, that would make these musicians choose to focus their entire music video on this place. We need to wake up to what it means.

Our conversation that evening traipsed around how Uganda keeps getting these big and small bits of admiration, acknowledgement, accolade and affirmation.

We need to do more of it ourselves, and celebrate the good stuff we have. And when others do it for us, we need to learn how to take the advantage they so readily give us.

Wondering about the value of this small opportunity? To advertise on YouTube for 1.8million viewers would cost a minimum of US $180,000 (Ushs630million). The song was only released in November 2016, and the video in December, so these are early days yet. In European charts alone the song has reached popularity in Belgium (35 on the singles charts), Hungary (33), Ireland (95), Scotland (47) and the UK (97).

Let’s not wait a few more seconds, minutes, days or years then start crying “Should’ve Been Me”. It is YOU, Uganda! Take the advantage!

off to a hakuna mchezo weight control or even weight loss year

AT about this time last year I was emerging from a thoroughly enjoyable festive season and going through my slight annual dismay at the reading on my bathroom scales as I stood on them.

Being overweight has never been a problem for me – even after it actually dawned on me that some people found it odd that I weighed so much. That particular realisation occurred at Mengo Hospital where my Aunt, Sister Joy Muwonge, worked and provided ready sanctuary whenever we suffered ailments.
Going through some treatment course at the age of about sixteen, I was asked to step onto the weighing scales but that routine exercise ended with a group of medical personnel gathered round to confirm and double check the readings, as well as their machine. I stood at 80 (eighty) kilogrammes.
They found it difficult to reconcile my age and my weight. I received warnings and words of advice that I took to be the routine from medical people, and life has gone on ever since with me accumulating more of these statements from a variety of people who did well in Biology and related subjects at school.
After my university days, when I was master of my own domain and destiny and didn’t need to rely on anybody’s menu allocations to determine my meals, I generally hovered between 96 (ninety six) and a hundred kilogrammes. A lot of meat and unhealthy prepared staple food was involved in this.
I also did not drink a lot of water or other such fluids that medical professionals would have listed as wise for consumption.

None of that worried me, and even the reading at the start of 2016 caused me no alarm even though none of my t-shirts felt comfortable any more, and my trousers tended to twist about in discomfort as if to give me hints of what I should be feeling.

The scales in January last year said I was 117 (one hundred seventeen) kilogrammes.

My suspicion was that the meals during the festive season had been exceptionally heavy and my exercise pitifully low, and I went about trying to correct it somewhat.

By April not much had changed, as my past corrective measures had been compromised by the busy political period and other excuses I cannot go into right now.

And then in walked a lady called Lucy Ociti (+256753471034), from the Fat Loss Laboratory. She had tried to track me down with little success for a number of weeks and when she eventually did I marvelled at her luck so much so that I had to give her two minutes. Just two minutes.

She couldn’t even pitch her solution properly because I kept interrupting with specific questions. I despise diets because I have spent most of my life (at this point) seeing my wife suffering through them quite unhappily.

I was happy to try one and show the loved one that: 1. I was capable of dieting myself and; 2. it was possible to diet without suffering.

I knew 1. above, and the questions I asked Lucy proved 2. above because the diet involved meats (besides pork) and allowed for some light cream salad dressings.

The cost made me hold my breath a little but turned out to be the best Ushs1.5million I spent all year on anything personal.

Following it more strictly than some people do religion, I got mid-way and thought I was on the verge of hitting my weight target. See, I thought a lot about how it worked, exactly, and then realised that it revolved around science we had learnt back in school.

Those lessons about food values? The manner in which the body processes food, creates energy, stores fat and so on and so forth? We know all that. We studied it. People took up sticks and beat us for getting answers wrong. And for some reason we grew up into adults without understanding it.

When my scales told me I was merely 90 (ninety) kilogrammes, I proudly went over to Lucy to proclaim victory and inform her I was en route to a platter of pork ribs within a matter of weeks. She was impressed, but still whipped out her own weighing scales – digital, this time – which said I was 99 (ninety-nine) kilogrammes, fully clothed and pockets full.

I was flabbergasted but also happy about one thing – that meant my 117 kilogrammes of January 2016 was actually a LOWER reading than my real weight at the time…

Some people think I have lost more than thirty kilogrammes, some think I must be ill, and others keep asking me to convey their regards to my big, older brother Simon.

I am now fitting into clothes sizes I last saw in my university days about twenty years ago. I have punched four extra holes into all my belts in order to avoid an embarrassing incident involving jeans slipping down to my ankles in public.

And I am still at some risk of that happening.

Yet I am still overweight.

Today, I oscillate between 90 (ninety) and 92 (ninety two) kilogrammes in the morning, and I still eat carefully, following the Fat Loss Laboratory principles. It makes for an easier approach to weight loss and fitness related resolutions. It has also underscored how much of what we learnt in primary school actually applies to the real world.

Both these realisations are going with me into this new year of Hakuna Mchezo weight control and weight loss.