24 April 2019

Uganda: Dr Agaba's Last Hours

In death in such gruesome form, Dr Catherine Agaba has stirred strong sad emotions among relatives, colleagues at work and friends.

"As we gather here, Dr Catherine [Agaba] is beyond recognition. It's good to forgive but at times it is very hard... " This was the first statement from Livingstone Wasswa, a workmate at the International Hospital Kampala.

Wassaw was master of ceremony in church during the requiem mass held yesterday at Our Lady of Africa Catholic Church in Mbuya, Kampala.

"Mourners, there's nothing to view and we agreed with family to keep her casket closed. It is a very nasty body and Cathy should not have gone this way. You're unable to recognise her," he went on.

Silence engulfed the church with many shedding a tear. Her younger brother Joseph Mugambe with whom they are pictured on the back page of the order of service is in disbelief. "I can't believe that Cathy's beautiful smile here is no more," Mugambe said.

"We all have a moment when we have to die but our sister didn't deserve this."

The Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Patrick Onyango, told mourners that he learnt that the deceased went missing on April 17 through a phone call from the OC CID of Kabalagala. Onyango was informed that Dr Agaba is suspected to have gone missing on April 13 but a case was filed by her family at night on April 16, 2019.

"The CID had assembled a team of detectives that went up to her residence in Muyenga. On a mere observation and recorded statements, he believed that Cathy was still alive," Onyango, one of the first officers to deliver the sad news to the family and IHK, narrated.

As investigations took shape, on Saturday last week, Onyango received a picture of a female dead body from Ibanda but family members dismissed it. This, he said, tipped investigators to pick interest in the security guard of her residence in Muyenga B zone in Makindye division.

The 24-year-old guard, Ken Ronald Obongo, who has since confessed to the murder, had suddenly taken time off his duty station.

"We started tracking him down [after he reportedly escaped with the deceased's phone after strangling her] and arrested him on Sunday night in Oyam district. We drove with him the whole night up to Kabalagala police before he took us to the residence to reconstruct the scene," he said.

Appearing before some family members and the media, Obongo confessed to the murder. He was returned to Kabalagala police where two other suspects are detained in connection with the death. As Onyango delivered his speech, he also received information that Obongo had been taken before a magistrate in Makindye to record an extrajudicial statement.

"We don't want him to go to court and say that we forced him to confess to the murder. We are going to fast-track the investigations and by end of this week, we will produce him before court," Onyango said. "The other two suspects [arrested last week], if he [Obongo] does not implicate them or have no connection, we shall release them."

In a typically moving homily, Fr Anthony Kibira prayed for a conversion of heart for whoever is responsible for this death.

"I must say sincerely that all funeral rites are difficult but this one is more difficult. There's no one reason to rob one's life in a very reckless way. Let us leave God to work on us," Kibira said in a low tone.

"A medical doctor who has laboured to save lives just disappears and is found dumped in a septic tank! It is hard to believe and express in words. For Cathy, everything on earth is finished and we wish she goes back to her creator where there is no suffering and disappearances to fulfill what He promised her."

HOW SHE WENT MISSING

On April 11, Dr Agaba went on leave after she had worked for 15 straight months, according to Dr Michael Oling, the hospital's director of Medical Services.

"True, she had worked for so many hours and needed some rest. She did about 250 hours a month, nearly 4,000 hours before she met her death. She was very passionate about her work. She was supposed to do an 8am to 8pm shift but in most cases, she would leave the hospital past 11pm because she was busy treating patients," Dr Oling said.

Oling revealed how this quiet doctor had disclosed to workmates that she would use the leave to celebrate Easter with her father in Mbarara. Instead, two days later, her younger brother who had travelled from the village didn't find her at home. Phenny Dentos Kaviiri, an uncle to the deceased, said the brother's visit was mainly intended to have her guide him on his university admission application.

"When he reached the residence, the door was locked. He tried to call her number but it was off," Kaviiri said.

When he inquired from the security guard, he was informed that Agaba had travelled out on Saturday morning [April 13] with a roller bag and hand bag. Not convinced, her brother first contacted Kaviiri who congregated with other relatives to chart a way forward.

Later on Tuesday, April 16, they rushed to Kabalagala police to report a case of a missing person. Kaviiri said he has been closely working with the security agencies until Easter Monday when he was contacted to rush to the deceased's former residence.

"I don't know how I will ever erase the picture of what I saw as Cathy's body was retrieved from the septic tank. It was such a horrible sight! Her ever-smiling face was no more and the body naked," Kaviiri said as his eyes turned red.

"The suspected murderer narrated in broad day light, demonstrated how he strangled her, undressed her and dumped her in the septic tank. She was a joy and the only medical doctor in the family. She was young, loving, and energetic and I don't think it was fair for her life to go like that."

The apartments where the deceased lived belong to Kooki Kingdom Prime Minister Idi Kiwanuka. There are no other tenants in the enclosed premise due to ongoing construction save for the landlord's house.

GONE TOO SOON

The executive director of Uganda Martyrs' Hospital Lubaga, Dr Andrew Ssekitooleko, said a budding radiologist has been lost for a country like Uganda that remains underserved in this profession. He said hardly any hospital can afford to have a resident radiologist as most of them are part time and share hours at different hospitals.

"If you think the doctor to patient ratio is bad, for radiology it's worse. At least, every hospital needs two full time radiologists. If most hospitals don't even have one, you can see the dire need in our hospitals. Many radiologists don't even serve upcountry and concentrate in Kampala because training in that field is also very expensive," Ssekitooleko, who mentored Agaba since her first year at medical school at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) in 2011, said.

He looked at her as a protégé.

"She went to MUST where I went, worked in Nsambya and IHK where I worked as well. I knew from my heart that I had produced someone with whom I could refer a patient and take good care of them. I have been through a lot with her and it's tragic that she is gone.

"As a country, we have lost a person who was born to be a doctor at heart. If you moved into a hospital, just know she would give you all her best. She has been a talented, brilliant and compassionate young person."

When Agaba applied to become a doctor at IHK in 2017, Ssekitooleko didn't hesitate to pen a recommendation letter. Then, Dr Oling told The Observer that the hospital wanted three doctors but 24 had applied for the job. "She was among the top three and second last to do the interviews. She was very shy but extremely intelligent. She understood medicine so well and the procedures. All members on the panel did not second guess on taking her up," Oling recalls.

"Our orientation is very intensive but Cathy picked up so fast to become one of us. She was very passionate about her work. We've lost a doctor, sister, friend and a possible radiologist."

In February this year, Agaba contacted Ssekitooleko about three areas of specialisation: emergency physician, surgery and radiology. They discussed the pros and cons of the different areas for her to go for and she zeroed on radiology "for purposes of her being a family person since there are limited emergencies in radiology."

According to Oling, she was scheduled to start her mentoring programme in radiology this month but opted to start after leave. At the time of her death, she was the medical officer in charge of the ward for adults with surgical conditions. She had worked there for two months in the last rotation of IHK doctors.

Now, she will be laid to rest today [Wednesday] at 2pm in Kagongi village in Kashari Constituency, about 32 miles on the Mbarara-Ibanda highway. The order of service indicates April13, 2019 as the day she breathed her last.

FACT FILE

Dr Agaba Catherine is the first born of Fred Rutagumba and the late Ustine Rutagumba. Born on August, 29, 1992 in Kagongi village, she went to St Hellens' Primary School, Mbarara; Mary Hill High School (O-levels) and Gayaza High School for her A-levels before graduating from Mbarara University of Science and Technology. She has worked at Kagongo hospital, Nsambya hospital and IHK.

nangonzi@observer.ug

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