She is only 27. She is from Luweero District. She has a rotting arm and she lives on the street near Owino Market waiting to die. A chronic ulcer has eaten her left forearm to the bone. She has spent more than a year living on the street. The pain she goes through is unbearable. She has to regularly inject a painkiller in her forearm to relieve the pain. The wound is exposed to the elements - rain, sunshine, dirt from the traffic.
Passers-by of all classes occasionally stop by and give her alms. Others just pass her by. About a month ago, a young South Sudanese student at Kampala International University (KIU), Tabitha Ajah Chol, walked by. She did the usual ritual and gave her a Shs1,000 note. She continued walking but her conscience was pierced. She went back and spoke to Annet Namakula. She took photos with Namakula. Namakula, accustomed to being shunned because of the stench from her open wound, wondered why a healthy, smartly dressed young lady would take interest in a person left to rot and die on the unforgiving street.
During all this, a small group gathered to see what was going on. The street preachers came and offered her a bottle of water. They gave a short prayer and left. In mid-September, Chol raised money from friends and took Namakula to Mulago.
The doctors said she has cellulitis - a deadly and chronic bacterial infection. It is, however, treatable. She had a similar but smaller wound in her right forearm. That wound healed. The only thing left is a scar. The hand also looks shrivelled.
Namakula’s constant companions are the street girls. One of them, Bridget, 14, has become her street nurse. She frequently provides the pethidine injection into her forearm through the vein. But Namakula’s courage and hope is unshaken. “People have given up on me. They think I am going to die. No! What will die is my infected arm,” she says. She even believes that like her right arm, the left arm with the giant ulcer can also heal.
Namakula says she fell ill in 2017 but has not had good medical treatment. Her father is dead. Her mother is in Luweero. So is her sister Dora. The two are equally helpless. Namakula completed A-Level four years ago with hopes of becoming a doctor. Illness cut short her journey to university. Her dream is to battle cancer. She wants to specialise in oncology.
The stigma of the smelly ulcer would continue to haunt Namakula. When she was admitted to Mulago, she was put in a general ward. Other patients complained and kept harassing her. She was also in great pain as she didn’t have the pethidine injections. One day she just left the hospital without a trace. She resurfaced at her street address near Owino Market.
Last week I met Chol at a meeting at Grand Imperial. She was in the company of many KIU students. I gave her my contacts. She wrote back telling me about Namakula. Chol has now decided to go to Nsambya Hospital. She contacted Dr Kasozi who gave her a bill of Shs4.3 million to cover the surgeon’s professional fees, some medication and five days admission at the hospital.
Last week Chol called again. She sounded desperate. Namakula’s condition has worsened. I called Dr Kasozi and he agreed to admit Namakula so that she can have the amputation done. But all this requires money.
I know how strongly Chol feels about Namakula’s agony. Chol is a refugee from South Sudan. She has seen her kith and kin die from gunshot wounds that developed gangrene.
Her empathy is, therefore, grounded in her own experience. There are many people like Namakula. We may not save them all but we can save Namakula. Let’s halt Namakula’s journey to the grave. Let’s stand with Chol in her passion to restore Namakula. Send contributions to Chol’s Mobile Money accounts - 0773 591 985 or 0752 361 998.