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.
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.