By Zerida Mponye

So I read an article a couple weeks ago on The Independent’s website from Dr. Ian Clarke who allegedly said that Ugandans were partly to blame for the collapse of the medical system. The article said that Ugandans do not trust their own medical system and, therefore, end up running abroad for medical care, leaving little to no [financial] support for the very costly alternative measures that private practioners might consider undertaking to help alleviate the current situation. There’s a big chance that the good doctor’s words were taken out of context by the writer of said article.

Anyone who would say something like that clearly hasn’t had a loved one fall terminally sick and be treated by Ugandan doctors –no offense to anyone. Around June last year, someone close to my heart woke up one morning feeling really sick. Naturally, we assumed it was malaria and went to the hospital for a checkup. After running the routine tests (malaria, pressure, diabetes), the doctor told him that there was nothing wrong with him and that he should go home and get more sleep and exercise, prescribed paracetamol and sent him on his way.

Now by the time you’ve lived for sixty and more years you know your body, and this man swore he’d never felt like this in his entire life. Something on the inside wasn’t right, he could feel it. Yet here the doctor was telling him he was perfectly fine. He went home that day, completely dissatisfied with the diagnosis, or lack thereof. After a sleepless night, he called up one of his nephews who’s a medical researcher for the government of Uganda. Said nephew came over in a hurry and took his uncle to a prestigious laboratory whose name I will not mention. They ran a series of tests and in the end concluded that he had an enlarged heart, almost defunct kidneys and signs of prostate cancer.

I cannot begin to explain the kind of panic this diagnosis sparked. Said nephew began to make phone calls to friends and colleagues and in a couple of minutes, managed to secure appointments to see some of the most sought after, yet hardest to find, doctors in the country –our dear nephrologists. By this point (24 hours after the first set of doctors had sent the patient home, seeing absolutely nothing wrong with him), the patient was unable to walk as there was a concentration of urea in this ankles due to the failing kidneys which were unable to properly filter said toxins, thereby causing an inflammation. The first nephrologist (whose name I will not mention) loaded the patient with diclofenac and a couple of other painkillers for the pain and then ran a series of tests after which he concluded that the first lab tests had been a gross exaggeration and that the patient’s kidneys were only mildly infected and that he would be fine by the time he finished the prescribed medicine. A few weeks down the road, the patient did get a little better.

But it turned out to be the calm before the storm because after about four weeks of what seemed like an improvement, the patient woke up one day feeling like death. The situation escalated so quickly this time around. One minute the patient was driving again, the next he was slipping in and out of lucidity. At some point, the level of toxins was so high that he was on the verge of losing his mind. This time, he went to see the other senior nephrologist. He ran all the tests again, to make his own assessment of the situation. But when he looked through the medical file at what the doctors who had previously handled the patient had deduced, he was appalled by the dosage of diclofenac and other [apparently] harmful (to the kidneys) medicine that had been prescribed to a patient with failing kidneys. In fact, he pointed out the point at which the kidneys had really been damaged. Please note that the said point of serious damage was in the four weeks that the patient had been taking the medicine prescribed by the other nephrology specialist. Now when the experts rubbish each other’s work, how are we to trust them? They are the ones who are supposed to know!

And I haven’t even talked about the shocking number of haemodialysis machines in the country (33 as of June 2015) to serve a population of 36 million. Or the number of times we are diagnosed with things we do not suffer from simply because the doctors want to sell their medicine. We are tired of being misdiagnosed. We are tired of our loved ones being told they do not have cancer only to die of cancer one month later at another hospital, having been diagnosed too late for anything to be done about it. We are tired of our friends being told they have miscarried (it was an implantation bleed for crying out loud) only to deliver bouncing baby girls nine months later (the surgery, 2011), to mention but a few.

Dear Ian Clarke, we do not choose to have little faith in the Ugandan medical system. It has just let us down too many times.