where did OUR ancient, efficient medical prowess disappear to, that we need missionaries today?


310135-Uganda3-DMID1-5civgi54c-480x360
Photo from http://www.wral.com

THE year is 2017, the month October, just a couple of days ago. I opened up an emailed link to a story about a team of medical professionals from the United States of America who are performing surgeries at a hospital in Kampala.

Every day after that, I have received daily updates from and about this team of medical professionals.

It is good work, of course, whenever a life is saved, an illness cured, or a pain relieved. I can’t complain about that – ever.

But when I read lines like, ” Many people are watching as these surgeries are also meant to be training for medical staff here in Kampala, that they may continue the work after the Americans leave…” and “Some have had symptoms for years, as long as a decade and didn’t have the money to get treated, or could not find a doctor with the expertise needed.” and ” having the American surgeons from Duke come here and getting these surgeries is truly ‘a miracle.'” I get a little uncomfortable.

I can’t blame the Americans, of course, for positioning as saviours in most situations – it is a status they have enjoyed for most of my life, at least. Most of the movies and stories we have grown up on have them saving the world from Adolf Hitler to aliens from outer space.

My discomfort was at the memory of discovering some years ago that a foreign historian had recorded the fact that hundreds of years ago there were people here in Uganda conducting the equivalent of Caesarean Section operations.

One book records, “In 1884, British doctors were therefore intrigued to learn that a sophisticated abdominal procedure had taken place five years earlier in the African kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitanga, whose inhabitants had experienced minimal contact with the rest of the world until the 1860s.”

That “Bunyoro-Kitanga” was actually “Bunyoro-Kitara”, and please note already that the British doctors were surprised that even WITHOUT lots of contact with the outside world, these Africans seemed capable of doing things.

Continues the book, “In a lecture to the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society, medical missionary Robert W. Felkin (1853-1926) described a caesarean section carried out by Banyoro surgeons at Kahura, Uganda in 1879. Both mother and child had survived, and the expertise involved came as something of a surprise to those who saw Africans as a bunch of savages wandering about waiting for someone to come and civilise them.”

See, up until that point, most operations of that nature only saved the child and NOT both mother and child.

In that surgery by my long gone relatives, anaesthasia was conducted using banana wine, and had special knives for the purpose – some of which are now “part of the Wellcome Collection in London”, a museum of sorts there.

Book Extract

It is confounding to even consider how we got from there to today’s situation where troops of foreign doctors come here to conduct surgeries and everyone hopes that the lessons stay with us. To a day where we have headlines about a mother losing her child in a hospital because of “lack of supplies”, and many unwritten stories about mis-diagnosis and patient mishandling left, right and centre.

Our Makerere University is listed on www.topuniversities.com with a favourable ranking on the continent specifically for Medicine. And I know for a fact that there are many Ugandans out there being lauded for their professionalism and dexterity at medicine and science.

AND we have so many medical professionals winning awards and accolades out there for outstanding research and even life-sacrificing bravery when things like Ebola break out on the other side of the continent.

So why, oh, why, do we still have missionaries coming here to save Ugandans and show us how it is done? Why aren’t we sending missionaries from Mulago to Kaabong to do surgeries there? Or even, from that Bunyoro-Kitara university of medicine whose name I cannot find anywhere, to Puerto Rico where they don’t even have electricity right now? Why aren’t our scientists re-discovering and re-creating anaesthetic methods out of the Banana Wine as our ancestors did as recently as 1879?

What will it take for us to re-discover our belief in ourselves to actually do the professional work that we are equipped, educated and expected to do, in a manner that makes us stand out for the rest of the world? What is that missing ingredient that will make all Ugandans of all professions and walks of life – medical, military, journalism, administration, education, political even – do their utmost best so we emulate those doctors of Bunyoro-Kitara in 1879 who amazed the British by their skill and knowledge?

So many questions, yet the answers can’t come quickly enough amid this haze of politics and whatnot.

save fishermen so we strengthen our brains


Life Jackets From Bibles For Uganda

MANY of you might have missed a feature article this week about efforts to find solutions on Lake Victoria to stop islanders from drowning so much.

Not that they drown often, since once you have drowned you don’t normally get another opportunity, but the problem seems to affect so many of them it had to be addressed in a big way.

So big that the solution mentioned in the article is a recent US$25million (91billion shillings) loan:

“Last October, the African Development Bank approved a US$25million (91billion shillings) loan for the three countries bordering Lake Victoria. The money will provide regular weather reports and alerts to people on the lake (via text messages and radio broadcasts), expand cellular coverage, and build a network of 22 resource centres along the shore,” the article reads.

That’s a lot of money for text messaging and radio broadcasts. While pondering what these 22 resource centres would provide, I realised I had to dig deeper and went to the ADB website where I found the explanation:

The loan is for “a multinational project to establish a safety-of-life communications systems for Lake Victoria (which) lacks any alert or rescue systems…as many as 5,000 people die in the lake each year. The loan will finance the extension of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks and the creation of 22 rescues centres in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, contributing to save lives and stimulate business for the benefit of the economy of the entire Lake Victoria basin.”

Stimulate business?

What struck me right away was the photographs accompanying the article, which depicted fishermen in their boats and NOT wearing life jackets. The first step of safety on the water, one would think, would be to wear those bright orange or yellow life jackets that help keep you afloat should your boat capsize, and also make you visible for the rescue people to find you.

Being an easily terrified coward when it comes to water travel, I pay attention to such things.

Does the US$25million (91billion shillings) ADB loan include the distribution of life jackets to the 200,000-odd fishermen operating on the lake?

Your guess is as good as mine, but there is no mention of them anywhere.

“The project will address that important gap by establishing a Maritime Communication Network (MCN), based on the existing mobile (GSM) enhanced coverage on the lake and signal location detection features. The SOS alerts will be given by SMS or phone call to the Maritime Rescue Communication Centres (MRCC) which will be established in Mwanza, Tanzania; or to two sub centers based in Kisumu (Kenya) and Entebbe (Uganda). These regional centres will then dispatch rescue boats based in one of the 22 Emergency Search and Rescue (SAR) stations distributed around the lake,” the documentation read.

So I went off to find out whether anyone else is providing them – for free or commercially – and found four companies. Having emailed them all, only Lake Cruise Logistics (Google them and buy yours directly, since they are so good at marketing) responded to my queries about whether or not they have available 1,000 life jackets, if they are made in Uganda, and at what cost they are.

They can supply large quantities (such as my 1,000 units) but only if the order is confirmed, and within six weeks. Their life jackets vary in quality, class and price, and could go over Ushs400,000 per jacket.

None of them is made in Uganda, the helpful marketing guy wrote me. All of them are made in China. Then they are imported into Uganda.

You can see my thought process. I could not blame the ADB guys, or the people who formulated this US$25million (91billion shillings) project as being the most necessary for the lives of these fishermen to be saved.

It’s now time for you and I to design a project proposal for the manufacture of life jackets here in Uganda, submit it to the ADB and then pick up a fraction of that US$25million (91billion shillings) loan to employ people and import raw materials for items that will provide a return on the investment and pay back the loan on a commercial basis.

Stimulate business?

We can make money in many ways if we manufacture the life jackets ourselves. Think of the companies that would advertise on these life jackets – starting with the ones who are really going to benefit from the US$25million (91billion shillings) expansion of the GSM Network.

Life jackets have been manufactured in other parts of the world since before 1900. The elements used in their manufacture are simple – plastic, nylon and foam. We already make plastics and foam here by way of chemical processes, and making Nylon should be just as easy, since it has been made elsewhere since the 1930s.

What seems to be difficult here is focusing on the important things and connecting the dots so we spend effort and money on phrases like ‘Stimulate business’.

Stimulate business?

Besides the factory itself, think of the energy firms that will provide electricity to our life jacket manufacturing plant; and to the homes of all the employees working there whose incomes will increase exponentially and enable them to upgrade their housing units. Think of the various other businesses that will pop up to supply the life jacket industry – on Lake Victoria and our other water bodies. Think of the businesses manufacturing foam, plastics and nylon and needles and so on and so forth for the life jacket factory to use…

Even more to the point, the US$25million (91billion shillings) project creating those 22 rescue centres will be even more successful because by the time they get to our drowning fishermen they will find them distressed but still alive and afloat the waters because of our life jackets!

Everybody wins. Plus, we will have more fish to eat and export because fewer fishermen will perish, thus boosting our fish exports and our national nutrition rates.

And, as we all know but sometimes don’t demonstrate, eating fish makes the brain grow stronger!

urban planners in kampala, please HELP?!


From redpepper.co.ug - Bukoto-Heights-Apartments
Bukoto Heights Apartments (Photo from http://www.redpepper.co.ug)

Dear Urban Planners and People In Charge of decisions such as which buildings of what type go where and how, Please HELP? The only way we can stop begging you to help is if you implement the stuff you went to school to learn.

I haven’t been to those schools or gone through the academic process you did, so I can’t say for sure that you are taught these things in those official forums; since I presume you live and work in places like Kampala, I hope that you share the pain most of us do.

Having just resumed driving my own vehicle last weekend, I was unprepared for the entire experience of getting from one place to another in one emotionally sound piece – and I can only blame the urban planning people.

To start with, leaving home was more difficult because there are yet MORE apartment blocks going up in the area where I reside. This means that there are MORE motor vehicles being parked in the neighborhoods there overnight, and needing to leave in the mornings for life. It also means that there are MORE motor vehicles visiting the neighborhoods during the day, and occasionally MORE celebrations during the day.

It is paragraphs such as the above that I would assume get written down in text books and notes of people studying urban planning. See, some of the buildings contain apartments with three bedrooms, for instance, which means that they will probably be occupied by a family. That family, in an upscale neighborhood, will almost certainly consist of two adults both gainfully employed in busy jobs that will require them to have a different car each.

When urban planners and those people who approve construction projects don’t take that into consideration and therefore demand that the investors in these apartment blocks create sufficient parking space, we end up having our already narrow neighborhood roads crammed with cars parked by the roadside.

Because the already narrow roads don’t have pavements or sidewalks, pedestrians walk weaving through the roadside cars and suddenly pop up in front of you on the road as you carefully drive through trying to avoid scratching cars on either side. Luckily, you are incapable of driving at speeds that could occasion vehicular bloodshed, but the anguish of avoiding said bloodshed tends to pile up.

By the time you leave the residential area and make it onto the main roads, therefore, you cannot be in a mellow frame of mind, and that makes you less prepared to deal with the discourtesy of your fellow motor vehicle operators. The rapid accumulation of motor vehicles at specific points of the road necessitates the deployment of traffic officers to create a semblance of order but they are normally as lacking in humour as you, the drivers, are.

One can’t blame them as much as the urban planners, whose fault at this point is the failure to increase the number of road connections from point to point in order to ease the flow of traffic. Where I reside, for instance, there are only three roads leading to the main roads, but many others that are called “Closes” because they close up at the gates of private residences.

These residences, urban legend has it, are mostly illegal – having been constructed smack in the middle of a road that should connect to other roads as the urban plans indicate.

The urban plans probably include some maps and should be in the custody of the urban planning people who would, under normal circumstances, take the necessary corrective action so that life is made easier for all Ugandans. I cannot explain why it doesn’t happen, which is why I go about my business as normally as last weekend when I went through this anguish to visit a relative on the other side of town.

En route to my destination I stopped over at a supermarket to pick up a small gift and was directed to the basement parking of the so-called Mall housing the supermarket. As I descended into the dark pit of the building I switched my car lights on and noticed that many of the pillars holding the building up were chipped at the edges.

A car emerging from the basement made it clear why. Within seconds I found myself in a panic because the departing vehicle turned a millisecond too early and was suddenly stuck in position, as was I because of another vehicle behind mine, and another behind that one, all causing a fresh traffic jam from the road into the basement of the building!

I’m certain that in our minds we all bore colourful thoughts about the urban planning people who approved the plans that created a basement with pillars placed so close to each other and the walls. The fellow in the departing car, though, became the most aggrieved when his car chipped off another bit of the edge of the pillar as he tried to make his escape from the dungeon.

Some of this would have been avoided, I’m sure, if the urban planners had considered the nature of the tenants and users of such buildings before approving plans; if each and every one of the tenant shops in that building had one car parked in the basement full-time, then the hundreds of shoppers driving in would always be squeezing their cars in between the spaces left over and against walls and pillars.

That’s another reason the urban planners need to revisit those lessons about public transportation systems and how they fit into the arrangement of buildings in towns and cities. Malls placed in locations far removed from where mass transport stops exist will most certainly be used by car owners – otherwise how are people to carry their shopping home?!

HELP US, we beg you, and revisit all your learnings from school?