The recently released parliamentary opinion poll survey results on citizens’ perceptions on Uganda’s governance, expressed their biggest need in improving welfare of Ugandans as improvement of health service delivery. The results of the household survey poll conducted by Research World International is an indicator of how Ugandans seriously consider health issues over and above education, infrastructural development and other key social economic challenges. No wonder, the Banyankore say ‘amagara nigakyira amagana’ literally translated as ‘life is far more worthy than wealth’.
The definition of health according to World Health Organisation is ‘a complete state of physical, social, economic, psychological and spiritual well being.’ While a complete realisation of this state in human terms seems utopian, it sets manageable objectives that can be achieved especially by Christians, world over who are expected to live a full life as pronounced by Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ‘A thief comes to kill, steal and destroy but I have come that you may have life and have it in full (John 10: 10). The thief, Satan, attacks his prey, the Christians, from different fronts including fanning poor economic conditions that more often than not arise from laziness. It is for this reason that Paul admonishes his hearers that he who does not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3: 10). Church leadership has a key role to play in promoting hard work in line with the use of our talents (Mathew 25: 14-30) and this role has been well emphasized in Churches. Secondly, the thief Satan, targets disrupting the social and psychological status of individuals through causing disharmony within an individual and between husband and wife, children and parents and other blocks of relationships in society.
One of the most under-looked areas of Church ministry is in ensuring full Christian life through the care for our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Church leadership needs to engage squarely with the issue of health since it is in line with the Jesus proclamation of life in full for believers. While the Church has squarely addressed disease through establishing mission hospitals and gotten concerned with spiritual warfare especially problems of witchcraft and while the issue of sin that corrupts man has been addressed overtly, the area of health education has not been well-addressed. The devil, Satan, has taken advantage of this to attack Christians through disease that affects the physical body.
I have attended several funerals and whenever I listen to the post-mortem reports it ignites my passion to engage with this subject. Only about a week ago, I visited a family that had just buried their 35-year-old son and as I engaged them in a conversation, it became clear that the problem arose from the eating habits or diet of the young man.
In our vigil conversation there were several old people well above70 years and a few young men. When the subject turned to the kind of food the old people in our society used to eat, and some still do eat, as possible reason for long life, the father of the deceased innocently remarked that in fact his son, who was a mechanic, used to eat two platefuls of roasted pork almost daily and he was commonly nicknamed Muchomo! He went on to say my son had put on much weight and really these young people’s eating habits are not the same as ours. In an instant I thought the code of the cause of death had been cracked. His brother went on to tell us that the over weight young man got a heart attack at 3pm and by 5 am he was dead. The medical report read that it was a cardiac arrest. Although none among us at the vigil was a medical doctor, we gave the verdict that most certainly the cause of death was poor diet.
Many argued that in such cases perhaps the pork with its fat clogged the blood vessels and stopped the heart. It is for such reasons that in 2015 I launched a pastoral health campaign of teaching what I considered to be the four critical diseases namely Cancer, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes and HIV/ Aids. My interesting discovery was that apart from men, whose services were to be found at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital only particularly for prostate cancer, women throughout the districts of Ibanda, Isingiro, Mbarara and part of Ntungamo had opportunity of having service centres relatively near to test for cancer among other diseases. In addition different women NGOs run test clinics periodically.
Nevertheless, a handful of Christians have ever tested as was proven by a show of hands during my pastoral visits in the 106 parishes! I used this opportunity to teach about the importance of medical tests even when one is not sick. Despite the cultural taboos, progressively we are witnessing changed attitude among Christians.
I was so pleasantly surprised recently while at Rweibare COU in Kashari county when one of the women who had stood up, upon my question of who had responded to my health campaign advice, to say, “Thank you Bishop for advising us, I was able to go and check and although the medics found that I had cancer of the uterus, it was in early stage and the uterus was removed!” The deafening silence that followed was a tale tell sign that the message had sank in. I doubt there is a woman from that church who has not gone for tests.
On August, 7 2016 I received a whatsApp message from one of my highly educated Christians whose mother had been suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer at Mulago Cancer Institute. The message alerted me with other friends to pray and also contribute money towards Shs20 million for further management at a Nairobi hospital to do radiotherapy. Somehow I missed seeing the message but read it on August, 12 2016 and promised to pray and raise some support. Same day my friend sent me a message to say the mother’s situation was getting out of hand with swelling and blockage of vein to heart, etc. On August 14, 2016, I sent some humble contribution but alas, less than two weeks, a message came through to say our 60-year-old friend’s mother had died. The death of this woman raised many questions but certainly with cancer the best treatment is early detection and treatment and that can only be achieved through health education.
These different incidents have further confirmed to me that when Jesus talks about ensuring a full life, he expects of us to promote a holistic gospel that touches the individual. It is not helpful for our Christians to overcome sin but die of ‘simple diseases’ that require simple hygiene or even advanced diseases that can be addressed through available scientific methods.
To this end, collaboration between Parliamentarians, government officials, health professionals and Church leadership will be inevitable if we are to meet the eminent critical need of Ugandan’s, health service delivery, as revealed in the parliamentary household opinion poll.
The Rt Rev Dr Mwesigwa (Phd.) is the Bishop of Ankole Diocese.