OVER the last couple of weeks Uganda has talked a lot about the deaths of two celebrities, and the sensationalism around their passing.
My eyes were first drawn to the part of the caption that read, “Simon died at the weekend…” which caused me some mild anxiety for obvious reasons.
Then I imagined the acute anxiety of the people who are actually related to Simon, and changed perspective because of the reality they were facing.
I have said a prayer for Simon Ekongo, and hope his soul Rests In Peace, and that his family finds solace at this trying time.
The comment about Simon Ekongo that caught me was: “See how this story is going to end here. Not like (those ‘celebrities’ earlier alluded to)…”
I was angry at that realisation because of how true it is, and reserved the newspaper story till later in the day so I could read it in private and grieve silently.
That grief is painful – even for me who didn’t know Simon Ekongo in life
Simon Ekongo was diagnosed with leukaemia (a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms.) and was referred from Soroti Regional Hospital to Mulago Hospital, which is under renovation and so takes patients to Kiruddu Hospital in Munyonyo.
He was taken to Kiruddu where, the story says, “…they tested the blood and confirmed that it was acute leukaemia…” so he was sent to the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) which is BACK at Mulago, in Kampala.
The meaning of the word “acute” in the English language should have made everybody involved a lot more sensitive to Simon Ekongo’s situation.
But, the story continues, he was transported by an ambulance manned only by a driver. There were no medical professionals in the ambulance to tend to Simon Ekongo, and he eventually got dropped off at a patient’s tent at the Cancer Institute on Friday.
A patient’s tent is a tent pitched on the grounds in which patients – in this case people who are suffering from Cancer and its related pains and symptoms – are admitted and kept for a while.
Because it was a public holiday, the story says, Simon Ekongo had to wait till Monday for admission to be done – with his acute leukaemia.
He died in the tent, in the UCI compound, on Sunday at 2:00am.
The story can be told and refuted and corrected but it still hurts to think about. Nobody is going to name a ward or even a patch of the garden at the Cancer Institute after Simon Ekongo, to remind all the medical workers of their responsibilities and duty of care.
For years to come we will hear lots of references to money being thrown into coffins and headteachers fiddling with young girls, but how often will we remember Simon Ekongo and how he reportedly died?
Or, more importantly, how often will we hear ways in which we can save the life of the next Simon Ekongo, or provide a decent way to exit this earth?
There is no saying he would have lived or was destined to die anyway, but the manner in which he did cannot (should not) be ignored.
I am guilty of not having visited the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) of recent, but reading that there is a tent for patients in the compound made me ask uncomfortable questions.
Why is there a tent for patients in the compound of a sizeable, new building such as that of the Uganda Cancer Institute? How many of the rooms in that building are being used as offices and kitchens and pantries storing brooms, mops and other sundries?
Might there be any merit in assessing the facility and how it is being put to use so that patients with acute ailments don’t die in the cold at 2:00am under a tent canopy while the shiny building stays locked and the people with the keys are off on their public holiday activities?
What happens in the ‘Patient’s Tent’ during the times when we go through heavy rains such as those we have seen in recent months?
How do Cancer patients get protection from the elements during the very hot days such as the ones we will be facing soon? Will there be electric fans and air conditioning units installed in the ‘Patient’s tent’ for them?
I’ve seen (physically, with my own eyes) a large Mercedes Benz Sports Utility Vehicle that is reported to have been purchased at somewhere between Ushs428million and Ushs763million for a Minister in the Health Ministry, under whose tenure Simon Ekongo died in that tent.
I refuse to believe that story to be true because nobody can be that callous in this economy where I am running around with my bankers over late mortgage payments and also my landlady over late rent payments, and so on and so forth…
Perhaps that Ushs428million-763million Mercedes Benz was a more urgently required purchase than the erection of a small, comfortable building in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute for Cancer Patients like Simon Ekongo to die in with some more care and dignity.
Could the Minister, perhaps, sell off the old vehicle that the Minister was using and use the proceeds to put up a small building for patients at the Uganda Cancer Institute so that people like Simon Ekongo don’t die under a tent at 2:00am (0200hrs) every other Sunday?
Or should we be focusing, as a country, on the people who lock up already existing buildings and leave Simon Ekongo and others out in the cold with acute illnesses, while they go to celebrate public holidays?
The public holiday in question, by the way, was Heroes Day.
The official theme of the day was announced as, “SELF SACRIFICE IS THE SINGULAR HEROIC PILLAR IN NATION BUILDING.”
Self-sacrifice – ‘the giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others or to advance a cause.’
It would be unfair to ask the Ministers and other senior officials to sacrifice their rights to shiny new cars and offices just so people like Simon Ekongo stop dying in tents in the compound. Let’s not do that. It might be considered self-sacrifice on the part of those officials but, hey – we need new four-wheel drive cars to drive over to attend Public Holiday activities…
As we pray for the soul of Simon Ekongo, departed from a ‘Patient’s tent’ in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute, let’s hope that the people who should have done a better job with him and others like him adjust the way they ‘work’, because we need more Heroes and more Self-Sacrifice in this country.