WRITTEN BY OSKAR SEMWEYA-MUSOKE
Last Sunday I suddenly turned into a tour guide! I was on a fun, day trip out to Jinja showcasing beautiful Uganda to a group of medical staff from the Riley hospital in Indiana, USA.
The group was here for a week treating children with heart defects at the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) working as a voluntary training team (VTT) sponsored by Rotary.
A few members of the VTT have been here several times; but for many, this was their first visit to Africa. The team comes once a year for about two weeks and follows a simple routine: from airport to hotel to UHI, back to hotel, until they fly out.
This is really heartfelt service especially since the very technically-equipped medical staff is here voluntarily in lieu of their holiday time!
These medical interventions at the UHI have been ongoing since 2007. Besides the Riley Mission, there are trips organised by other groups but Gift of Life, a Rotary offspring, supports all and the government of Uganda provides one billion shillings annually.
Consequently, UHI is well-equipped and medical personnel at the institute are skilled. Ugandan surgeons and nurses regularly do complex operations, including open-heart surgery.
The cost of operating a child at the UHI is now $5,000 in comparison to the $20,000 required for the same treatment in India!
Unfortunately, UHI operates just 10 children a year, way below the 150 the available equipment can manage! The UHI director, Dr Omagino, says the institute needs more operational funds to cover nutritional needs after the operation and fees for education. This would surely create bigger success stories!
Perhaps some day, UHI will have resident fellowships where visiting medical experts come and stay longer. Our national referral has one brilliant anaesthetist as opposed to Riley hospital’s 30! Indeed, Riley released two for the Uganda trip!
So, there we were on a Coaster bus and, as we went past Nakawa market, one of the doctors inquired about the frantic ongoing activity. That is when I became the tour guide!
From Nakawa, Kireka, Bweyogerere, all the way to Mukono, you will not easily find any green spaces. Shops, workshops and tradesmen litter both sides of the road. Thriving business? Why were many open that early on a Sunday morning then? Perhaps it is desperation; a sign of current hard times.
Exiting Kireka, as I show off our new Northern bypass, another guest inquires about the dozens of orange buses parked on the right by Namboole stadium. Ahem – Pioneer Easy buses; what should I say?
The Kampala Industrial and Business Park, which many call Namanve industrial park, is upon us! Twelve years old now but the most visible industry by the roadside is the Coca- Cola plant. When will this park take off and guide us to the promised middle-income economy?
Down the road is the Red Pepper Publishing Company and going by the new structures, they seem to be thriving despite the derogatory remarks made about them regularly by politicians.
Some mysterious people tried to torch them down a couple of years ago but they have had the last laugh!
It is the rainy season hence the lush, glowing, green tea plantations welcome you into Lugazi! There is an infamous accident black spot just before Lugazi town, and it is comforting that the bus driver knows it. As we drive out of the town, I begin to worry – it is medical personnel on the bus after all!
Indeed questions do come up about Lugazi[Kawolo] hospital. Is it true that there is only one resident doctor? What happened to running water?
What happens to accident victims brought here? We, the Ugandan Rotarians, stammer and mumble… we must remain patriotic! And for any inaccuracy here, my good friend, Past Rotarian President Hon Sarah Opendi, would have me for dinner! Thankfully the Mabira rain forest comes up but is there any grain of truth in the rumour that the forest may no longer be majestic? Who knows!
We pass Nile Breweries and Njeru town, which I love to call TV City! Have you counted the number of aerials sticking out of every structure in that place?
And soon, we are at the Source of the Nile where I hand over to a proper guide.
The author is one of the founding Kigo thinkers.