Kisiizi: A valley of death that turned into lifesaving hospital

The old flax factory building that now shelters the children and surgical wards at Kisiizi hospital. PHOTO/RONALD KABANZA

What you need to know:

  • Kisiizi Hospital was founded in 1958 in a place where girls, pregnant, out of wedlock often met their death.

In the 1930s in Kigezi Sub-region, just like in other parts of Uganda and Africa, it was abominable for a girl to get pregnant before marriage.
As tradition demanded, the culprit would be taken to the ravine of Kisiizi Valley in Rukungiri District where she would be thrust violently over the cliff to her death.

“That was the Bakiga culture of punishing a girl who has brought bad omen, shame and embarrassment to the family, tribe and community,” Mr John Karugaba, 89, a resident of Kisiizi Parish, says.
He says such a punishment helped in instilling a sense of morality and respect of traditions to the young generation. It is said that more than 100,000 girls lost their lives in this way.

But Mr Musa Byamukama, 93, a resident of Nyakishenyi Sub-county in Rukungiri District, says the practice was banned after one pregnant girl being thrown over the cliff by her father and brother forcefully hang onto them, dragging all of them into the valley to their death.
The valley was then transformed into a flax factory where locals were encouraged to start growing the crop to supply to the factory. The factory was, however, closed in 1955 after locals failed to grow the plant, leaving behind a factory building, two staff houses plus a small hydro- power plant.
Then the Uganda Church Missionary Society requested the colonial government to hand them the flax factory building to put up a hospital. This request was granted in February 1958, which gave way to the birth of Kisiizi Hospital. 

Dr John Sharp and his wife Doreen are the pioneers of the hospital.
The new hospital brought relief to area residents since Kabale Mission Hospital, which was the only one in the sub-region, had collapsed during the Second World War II.
Kisiizi Hospital, which started with 24 beds and two wards, has since become a shining light in the valley of death. The hospital currently boasts of a 310-bed capacity, with 9,000 admissions, 58,000 outpatients, 2,245 deliveries and 3,241 surgical operations being recorded every year.
The hospital also has a successful community-based, not-for-profit health insurance scheme, the first of its kind in Uganda, with more than 38,000 subscribed members.
Mr Bishobire Kwesigomwe, 76, a resident of Buyanja Sub-county, says the existence of the hospital has transformed the community and changed the sentiments attached to the valley.

“I first visited Kisiizi in 1996 when my son’s wife was delivering. The care and treatment that was given to her was special to the extent she was operated by white doctors.  I thank God for having given Kisiizi hospital to the people of Rukungiri,” he says.
Mr Muhwezi Kivengyere, 96, a resident of Kisizi Parish, says the establishment of the hospital relieved the community of the burden of illnesses that claimed many lives.
“Before its existence, there was a lot of illness and people would travel to Mbarara to access modern health care services because the 2nd World War had caused the closure and collapse of Kabale Mission Hospital, which was a centre of medical care in Kigezi region,” he says.

Dr Sharp, the pioneer doctor, passed on eight years after starting the hospital in 1966, while his wife Doreen passed in April this year.
Mr Moses Mugume, the hospital administrator, says the pioneers of the hospital helped the community to access better health services in the region . “If it wasn’t for their tireless effort, the hospital would be nowhere in the region. So we thank God for their lives and we ask God to grant their souls eternal peace,” he says.

Kisiizi Hospital was founded by missionary John Sharp in 1958 and was later taken over by the North Kigezi Diocese of the Church of Uganda. The hospital has since started Kisiizi Hospital Primary School, Kisiizi Hospital School of Nursing and Kisiizi Hospital Power Limited. The hospital is a fee-paying hospital, although no one is turned away due to inability to pay. 



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