Dr. Peter Waiswa turned down a well-paying job in Kampala to help expectant mothers and their newborns in rural areas. Contrary to the usual practice where patients look for doctors, Dr. Waiswa looks for the patients
He strolls around the rural compound with ease, scrutinising it in a peculiar way. He expresses concern about the improper way of rubbish disposal, the unsightly heaps of decomposing cow dung and house space being shared with poultry.
After taking notes, he moves back to the entrance of the hut in Mbale village, Mayuge district, where an expectant mother stands rather taken aback by the unexpected visit.
Dr. Peter Waiswa then proceeds to find out whether the pregnant woman has gone for antenatal visits, purchased all the necessities in preparation for the baby, and whether she has a home delivery kit. When he finds out that some items are missing, he instructs the woman to talk to her community health worker (CHW) to get the missing items.This is Waiswa's typical day.
He has chosen to break the norm of doctors waiting for patients in their offices. He moves around the villages of Busoga region to improve maternal and newborn care.
"It is quite an enjoyable task, given that I thought of it in the 1990s when I was still in school. My main preoccupation then and now is why so many home births are accompanied by preventable deaths," Waiswa says.
No wonder, after completing internship in 1999 at Mulago Hospital, the young doctor shunned a good-paying job in Kampala city with one of the country's leading NGOs and settled for a posting in rural Iganga district.
"My major interest was to get to work in an area with locals yearning for better healthcare," he says. Prof. Stefan Peterson of Makerere University School of Public Health (MUSPH) says Waiswa's search for answers saw him mobilising communities, talking to people and volunteering with rural-based NGOs.
Waiswa's efforts came in handy in 2004 when MUSPH approached him to help set up the Iganga/Mayuge Health and Demographic Surveillance Site (DSS).
Data collected by DSS showed that the number of babies and mothers dying shortly after birth was overwhelming. They used this information to lobby support from several international bodies, including the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and World Health Organisation (WHO).
With emphasis on the fourth millenium development goal (MDG4) that focuses on child survival, they aimed to reduce the under-five child mortality rate significantly, before the year 2015.
Because of his selfless work with expectant mothers, traditional birth attendants (TBAs) have become more trustworthy in Busoga region because of their friendly approach to mothers.
"These TBAs stay within the community and know the people well. So I reasoned that if we, health workers, could borrow a leaf from them and reach out to the locals, we could save more lives," Waiswa says.
TBAs had long lost people's trust among the community because they had turned service into business. He argued that the TBAs' main concern was money and not the health of the mother; hence many mothers would die after being attended to without proper follow-up treatment.
A team of over 50 CHWs attached to DSS have been dispatched to sensitise expectant mothers about the need to visit health centres on a regular basis.
Beatrice Okotel, a senior nursing officer at Iganga Hospital, says there is a noticeable increase in antenatal attendance by pregnant women.
"Those days the most of the expectant mothers were from urban locations, but nowadays there are many coming from the remote sections of Mayuge and even Islands on Lake Victoria," Okotel says.
Dr. David Muwanguzi, the Iganga district health officer, urges all medical workers to emulate Waiswa by going out to their patients to understand them better.
"It is one way of doing away with the age-old complaint of rude medical practitioners who scare away mothers from health centres, forcing them to deliver from banana plantations," Muwanguzi notes.
According to Muwanguzi, the fact that over 80 expectant mothers turn up for antenatal checks every Wednesday at Iganga Hospital, compared to an average 25 in the past, is testimony enough that Waiswa's efforts have not been in vain.
Waiswa was born a twin on August 29, 1971 to the late Kyobe Kasiko Isabirye and Gladys Kasiko Nabirye of Naigobya village, Bukooma sub-county in Luuka district.
WHO IS WAISWA?
He attended Naigobya and Iganga Town Council primary schools. He then went to Budini Secondary School for O'level and Jinja College for A'level. He completed in 1992. He studied human medicine at Mbarara University of Science and Technology from 1992 to 1997.
Thereafter, he worked as a doctor in rural Iganga, before enrolling for a master of public health degree at Hebrew University, Israel (2002-2003). Waiswa obtained a PhD from Makerere University and Karolinska Institute, Sweden in 2010.