My Ebola story: We never visited traditional healer

Ms Sandra Tumusiime, the wife of Peter Twagirayesu who died of Ebola. PHOTO| DAN WANDERA

What you need to know:

  • Three days after the death of her husband, Tumusiime developed joint pains and a cold. She then tried to go for a medical checkup at a health facility in Kampala, and it was while she was here that she was tracked.

When the Ministry of Health declared the outbreak of the Ebola Sudan Virus in Mubende District on September 20, 2022, panic, myths and misconceptions arose and led to some of the confirmed Ebola patients escaping from the isolation and treatment unit.
One of the cases involved an Ebola contact, Peter Twagirayesu and his wife Sandra Tumusiime, who escaped from Mubende. It was alleged that the couple made a trip to Luweero District to visit a traditional healer. However, Ms Tumusiime has since denied that she and her late husband travelled there.

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Tumusiime says the talk about a visit to Luweero was possibly a rumour, because they had never been there, did not have any relatives there, and could not have visited a traditional healer since she and her late husband were Born Again Christians. She believes that the failure by the emergency health teams in Mubende to locate the couples’ whereabouts after their escape could have created room for the misinformation.
“It is true that we travelled from Mubende and relocated to Kampala City in fear of getting to the Ebola isolation facility at Mubende Hospital. We visited various health facilities in Kampala as my husband’s health deteriorated but we never went to Luweero as alleged,” she says.
Ebola address
The information about an Ebola confirmed case escaping from Mubende and traveling for more than 200kms to Luweero was shared during a televised presidential address on the Ebola virus outbreak on October 12, 2022.
In his address, President Museveni banned the traditional healers from attending to patients as the country fought the disease.  Mr Museveni cited the case of Peter Twagirayesu who had succumbed to the Ebola virus disease earlier in the week.
“Twagirayesu was supposed to be under quarantine but decided to escape from Mubende to Luweero District where he visited a traditional healer. He violated all the health protocols leading to the spread of the virus,” Mr Museveni said.
When the Ebola emergency surveillance teams listed Twagirayesu as an Ebola contact, he hatched a plan to escape from Mubende along with his wife.
“We got scared about getting to the Ebola isolation after a rumor that indicated that patients admitted at Mubende would lose their internal organs. My husband decided that we seek treatment in Kampala City,” Tumusiime says.
The couple travelled by taxi to Kampala and visited Kiruddu Hospital without disclosing their medical history. Twagirayesu reportedly asked the medical teams to examine him but did not mention anything to do with Ebola virus.
“We concealed our movements while in Kampala for fear of getting tracked by the Ebola surveillance teams,” she says.
When the medical laboratory results were finally released, Twagirayesu was said to have ulcers and kidney complications, Tumusiime reveals.
She says his medical condition continued to deteriorate, so the couple decided to go back to Kiruddu Hospital where Twagirayesu was admitted. He died the next day.
Our investigation reveals that Twagirayesu was admitted to Kiruddu Hospital on October 6 and died the next day. No official record mentions the Luweero account including the village and Sub-county where the alleged traditional healer was based in Luweero District.
At that time, all contact persons with the Ebola confirmed cases were supposed to be traced, but no official record is available about a traditional healer from Luweero traced by the health teams. 
Under the Ebola Virus Disease guidelines, the traditional healer should have been listed among the contacts, if he was one.    Tumusiime’s account corroborates with the investigation we did, that Twagirayesu and his wife never went to Luweero as alleged but stayed briefly in Nateete, Kampala, before going to Kiruddu Hospital.
Tumusiime tracked
Three days after the death of her husband, Tumusiime developed joint pains and a cold. She then tried to go for a medical checkup at a health facility in Kampala, and it was while she was here that she was tracked. The person, who accompanied her and had her mobile phone unknowingly, answered a caller who identified himself as a relative who wanted to bring some money for Tumusiime. 
The caller asked for the location of the health facility. Within minutes an ambulance with health teams dressed in protective gear appeared.
“I was ordered to board the ambulance and found myself at Entebbe Ebola Treatment Unit. At this time, I was tired of hiding and wanted treatment. I had already realised that I possibly contracted Ebola from my husband,” Tumusiime reveals.
At Entebbe, the blood sample result confirmed her as Ebola positive and she was booked into the Ebola treatment ward. After two days at the facility, Sandra Tumusiime developed other symptoms, including diarrhoea and vomiting. This lasted for about seven days.
On October 22, just two days to her discharge from the Ebola treatment unit in Entebbe, when she had fully recovered, Tumusiime says she gave birth to a seven-month-old premature baby. The baby died two hours later. When it was tested, the baby was found to have had Ebola.
On October 24, 2022, Tumusiime was discharged from the unit.
Tumusiime, who has since recovered and is healthy, says the unfortunate decision to escape from Mubende District was based on rumours about the suspected human organ harvest that was not true.  
“At the time we left Mubende for Kampala, my husband was still strong and could walk long distances. I believe that if we had gone to the Mubende Hospital Ebola treatment unit early, he would possibly be among the big number of the Ebola survivors,” she says.
Seeking help
Although she is fully recovered and has not experienced the after effects of the disease, Tumusiime is faced with other challenges. She claims that Twagirayesu’s family is demanding for all the property she has, insisting that though she married their son, they did not have any children.
“I have been threatened and continue to receive threatening messages from the relatives of my late husband. I am depressed and seek help from individuals, and organisations that fight for family rights. I have failed to settle down because of the threats from the family,” she tells this paper, adding that she now lives in fear and in hiding.
Before the whole ordeal, Tumusiime was employed at one of the private health facilities, but when she returned after she had recovered from Ebola, her position had been taken up by someone else and she was unable to get another job there. Her efforts to seek employment from other areas is yet to yield fruit.
She believes her failure to get a job is a result of her past medical condition as an Ebola virus disease survivor.