Dr Busingye has delivered 3,000 babies

Saturday December 19 2020
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By GILLIAN NANTUME

Dr Priscilla Busingye heads the association of obstetricians and gynecologists of Uganda (AOGU) but at 14, she dropped out of school because her father feared that she would get pregnant and he would miss the cows that would constitute her bride price. And now, she has won the $500,000 (Shs1.8 billion) L’Chaim prize to build her dream medical centre.

 As I sit under a tree in the green square outside Radio Sapientia, I ponder on the woman I am about to meet. I expect a high achiever oozing haughty confidence, ready to reel off the dos and don’ts of making it in life.

 Instead, the small woman who walks towards me, dressed in a light grey habit and white veil turns out to be humble and pragmatic.

Self sacrifice

Dr Priscilla Busingye, a specialist obstetrician and gyneacologist, is a high achiever, all right, but material things and accolades have no place on her mind. I am surprised that her salary is not her own.

 “In our religious formation, poverty is one of the three vows we take. You sacrifice everything to the common pool so that it can serve the community. I submit my salary to the Mother Superior and all I ask for is a dress, soap, and upkeep. It makes me happy that I am not attached to anything,” says the 55-year-old nun who was born in Kamwenge District. 

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Service to others

It turns out though, that Dr Busingye is attached to her patients because she keeps wondering about the patients who are waiting for her at the gynecology clinic she has today at St Francis Nsambya Hospital.

 “When I have a urogynecology clinic, I might see 15 to 20 patients in a day. But, it also depends on if I have a theatre day and the number of cases I have to operate on,” she says when asked about the number of patients waiting for her.

 Inspiration

A member of the Banyatereza Sisters, Dr Busingye has encountered a high number of obstetric problems since she began practising medicine in 2003. She says obstetric problems differ according to region.

 “In some places, these problems could be due to lack of transport for a pregnant woman to a health facility, while in other places, pregnant women may arrive early at the facility, but a lack of specialists may complicate matters. Pregnancy is not a sickness, but it puts every woman at risk.”

 These problems inspired her to dream of creating a decent health facility where women can find specialists and the services they need.

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 Turning a dream into reality

The dream began in Kabarole District, in western Uganda, when Dr Busingye was medical director at Holy Family Virika Hospital.

 “We were getting several referrals of obstructed labour and fistula, from the community. I discovered these particular cases were all coming from one particular place in Kyenjojo District. When we organised a medical outreach to the place, I found out that women were delivering in a very small unpleasant room,” she says.

 The Banyatereza Sisters had land, which they decided to put to use to build a decent health centre – Rwibaale Clinic – for the women. The clinic is now a Level Four health centre, with a theatre and two-bed labour ward. 

  The need to turn the clinic into a world-class medical centre led her to apply for the L’Chaim Prize.

 Benefits of  the prize

The winner of the African Mission Healthcare (AMH) Gerson L’Chaim (“To Life”) Prize for outstanding Christian medical missionary service was announced on November 19 – which happens to be Dr Busingye’s birthday. She is the first African, and first woman, to win the prize, which includes a $500,000 award in support of her medical work.

 “I was overwhelmed with joy. I was born without a midwife or a doctor present, and now, I am being empowered to help babies to be born in a better state. When you speak for the voiceless, God really responds and I look forward to implementing everything we have wanted to do,” she enthuses.

 The centre of excellence she plans to build is projected to deliver 1,000 babies annually, provide primary care for 1,170 needy children under six years and their families (totaling 5,100 people) and provide hands-on training and mentorship for 120 doctors, midwives and other health workers in the regional hospitals, such as Rushoroza, Nyakibaale, and Ibanda, who will improve the quality of maternal health care throughout southwestern Uganda.The prize will also enable the health centre to restore dignity to 120 women through repair of birth injuries and create more than 50 jobs in the local rural community.

 Humble beginnings

Dr Busingye admits to being just a face of all the people who have supported her in her dream to become a medical doctor.  Among these, she lists her parents, siblings, the Banyatereza Sisters, Sr Gertrude Kabanyomozi who spent sleepless nights writing the proposal with her, her teachers, like Prof Florence Mirembe, Dr Jolly Beyeza, Prof Gabriel Nzarubara, AMH, and Prof Kolars, among others.

 Her journey almost stopped in 1979, when her father pulled her out of Bigodi Primary School in Kamwenge District. She was 14-years-old.

 “At that time, many girls were getting pregnant, and among the Bakiga, it is unfortunate when a girl gets pregnant before marriage. My father thought if I continued in school I would meet boys and end up pregnant. So, he thought the best thing was for me to stay at home,” she say.

 She spent the whole of 1980 at home, only leaving home every Sunday to attend church. Eventually, she picked up the courage to approach the nuns at Kitagwenda Parish and told them she wanted to become a nun.

 “There was a nun from my village, Sr Rovina Turyazayo who is now a pharmacist. I wanted to be like her. I just felt nuns are set apart to help the poor. The word ‘poor’ was always on my mind, although at the time, I did not know what it meant. I told the nuns that my mother could pay my school fees for the religious instruction in secret.”

 In 1981, the nuns told her to go back to Primary Six in Bunena Primary School in Kitagwenda District. Her mother sold beans, peas, and sorghum without her father’s knowledge, to pay her fees. However, when she eventually failed to meet all the expenses, the sisters invited the young girl to live with them, and took over her upbringing.

 After Primary Seven, she began religious instruction to become a nun, only returning to formal school five years later, in 1985, when she joined Senior One at St Maria Goretti Secondary School in Fort Portal Town. She was 20. Her love for God set her on the medical path.

 “I thought that if you wanted to talk directly to God, you had to send a message through a dying person. So, I wanted to become a nurse to talk to dying patients. But, after Senior Four, when I joined Mary Hill High School for A-Level, I realised I wanted to be a doctor to serve many people – first the poor and then, the helpless who were in hospital. When I became a doctor, I saw cases of obstructed labour and I wanted to help, so I trained for that.”

 Dr Busingye feels that when she steps in to help a bleeding pregnant woman who is at risk of death, she is serving God.

 “We see God in all human beings, and when you save a life, you have saved God in that person. When you save a woman, you have enabled her to take care of her other children and dependents, as well,” she says.

 She studied both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in medicine at Makerere University. She has worked at Virika Hospital as a medical director, at Baylor Uganda as a consultant, helped improved the maternity wing at Norvik Hospital, and worked at a host of different regional hospitals in western Uganda. She has also had short teaching stints at the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of Leeds.

 Dr Busingye’s mother is still alive and is proud of what her daughter has become. “She always says I was a special child, and she is happy that I am there for the community, especially women. For me, the joy that I have in serving others inspires me; the ability to know that today is a new day, a new blessing, and I have only this day to live. I feel that if I could make a difference in each person’s life today, I am writing many things in their hearts.”

 On how many babies she has brought into the world, Dr Busingye says she stopped counting at 3,000. And since obstetric conditions do not take a break, at the clinic, she finds that one of her colleagues had stepped in to handle her patients during the time we sat down for the interview.

What had to be done

“The dream began in Kabarole District, in western Uganda, when Dr Busingye was medical director at Holy Family Virika Hospital.

 “We were getting several referrals of obstructed labour and fistula, from the community. I discovered these particular cases were all coming from one particular place in Kyenjojo District. When we organised a medical outreach to the place, I found out that women were delivering in a very small unpleasant room,” she says.

 The Banyatereza Sisters had land, which they decided to put to use to build a decent health centre – Rwibaale Clinic – for the women. The clinic is now a Level Four health centre, with a theatre and two-bed labour ward. 

  The need to turn the clinic into a world-class medical centre led her to apply for the L’Chaim Prize.

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