The Monitor (Kampala)

25 September 2008

Uganda: Cure Hospital - Bringing Hope to Neurological Disorders

CURE Hospital Mbale now provides a solution to not only patients with hydrocephalus but all neurological conditions such as spina bifida, epilepsy, encephalocele and other brain related disorders.

When Derrick Bakka's head began to grow bigger than the rest of his body at about three months of age in 2004, society had all sorts of theories in explanation for the condition.

Most were convinced it was witchcraft and others like Prossy Nakabuye, the mother must have been to blame; for having used contraceptives and maybe misbehaving during her pregnancy.

"Others said Derrick was a sacrifice in his clan and suggested that I throw him away or dump him somewhere, from where the spirits would pick him. Some said he was to be an abode for evil spirits (medium)," says Nakabuye.

It was the first time the family was seeing anything like this and a whole month's stay at Mulago Hospital didn't yield anything. Nakabuye was losing hope and the situation continued to worsen by the day.

Fortunately though, the family met a medical doctor who told them about the availability of faster services for conditions such as Bakka's at CURE Children's Hospital in Mbale. At the hospital, Nakabuye was told her son had a condition called hydrocephalus and also saw many other children with the same condition.

A typical surgery at CURE Children's Hospital however costs the hospital approximately $1,000 ( about Shs1.6m). Bakka's family however are peasants subsisting on growing a few crops in Wakiso - Kazo village. Bakka was nonetheless ably operated upon on December 6, 2004, and today at two years and seven months, is reported as healthy and learning to talk.

Aiding patients with both treatment and bills

According to Derek Johnson, the hospital's Executive Director, over 30, 000 children in Uganda suffer from hydrocephalus. "Because of ignorance, poverty and the stigma that comes with disability in this country however, few seek treatment and about 90 percent don't live beyond four years of age.

For even those that are aware that the condition is treatable, it is very expensive and unaffordable to many," he explains.

CURE Children's Hospital of Uganda, which has been in existence for nearly eight years, now, provides a solution to patients not only with hydrocephalus, but all neurological conditions like spina bifida (a sac attached to the back), encephalocele, epilepsy, brain and spinal tumors, spinal defects and other brain-related conditions. Other than seeking the patients out in the rural areas by setting up mobile clinics, CURE subsidises treatment costs so that no one seeking the hospital's help is turned away, regardless of how much they can offer.

According to Peter Sagabo, the Public Relations Officer of the hospital, the total cost of the surgeries is subsidised for the patients and they are billed a one time fee of Shs750,000. "Many are however not able to afford this and thus we make them pay in manageable installments over a period of years.

Derrick's family has for instance so far paid Shs100,000, last paid in 2005. They had promised monthly installments of Shs100,000 but failed," explains Sagabo. Although they deal in expensive procedures therefore, the hospital continues to target the rural population who are ignorant, stigmatised and need help despite their financial inability.

CURE Children's Hospital in Mbale is able to handle diagnose, treatment, admissions, surgeries and even counselling, according to Sam Baguma, the Regional Director for Africa in charge of development among other responsibilities.

"We are an international hospital with hospitals in the eastern, central and southern parts of Africa but CURE Uganda is the only hospital that performs more than one kind of treatment. The rest are specialised hospitals equipped to handle specific conditions," he adds.

Baguma however explains that although they subsidise the costs, the treatment is not free and they always make it clear to the patients. "Other than to make them appreciate the magnitude of the service offered, we need to always let the probable sponsors aware of the full amount required for the treatment," he explains.

The hospital's operations depend on public donations, whether individuals, companies or government. Despite the fact that they have been in existence for years though, helped many Ugandans and trudge on tirelessly, Ugandans have barely taken up ownership of the hospital, probably mainly because they don't know about the hospital's services, let alone its existence.

"On the whole for instance out-country sponsorship is by far more than that from within. We have discovered the need to make Ugandans more aware of our existence and our ability to help, in the hope that they will be more prompted to make contributions," says Baguma.

Fundraising

In the past, CURE Hospital has held fundraising events, approached individuals for sponsorships and racked their minds to think of all ways to solicit support for the cost of treating those that cannot afford it.

Their most recent endeavour is a climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro slated for September 29 to October 5. "We have been calling upon the public to contribute towards this climb and all the money goes into the hospital bills of course.

We also hope to highlight to the general eastern public of the plight of the disabled children so they can help, which is why we picked on the highest peaked Mountain in East Africa for the climb," says Dr Julie B. Wavamunno, a member on the hospital's board and one of the six anticipated climbers. She will be accompanied by two other Ugandans, two Americans and a Zambian.

Dr Wavamunno also explains that the hospital provides lodging, food and general welfare for the patients and their caretakers so they can concentrate on the healing. "All these costs are included in the fee. The public also need not worry that their money maybe goes into paying expatriates because actually all the doctors in the hospital are Ugandans, just one expatriate," she says.

For anyone wishing to contribute to the hospital's cause, CURE Hospital though based in Mbale has an office on Bakwame House on 3rd floor near Hotel Africana, Kampala.

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