Written by Vanessa Santilli for The Catholic Register on March 27
Dr. Clement Okello is one of only three hematologists in Uganda. With a population of 35 million, it’s an overwhelming workload. As a Roman Catholic, Okello says his service as a doctor is an extension of the healing mission of Jesus. “I derive my strength from seeking him in prayers.”
Through St. Joseph’s Health System’s International Outreach Program, Okello has been given the opportunity to further his knowledge of hematology, the study of blood-related diseases, as an advanced level of training isn’t available back home.
“I will now be able to provide better care to patients,” says Okello, who works at the Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, the country’s capital city.
Founded 30 years ago, the International Outreach program runs out of St. Joseph’s Health System and brings doctors from Uganda, Haiti and Guyana to train in Hamilton. There, doctors train doctors who learn the latest in Canadian medicine to help improve patient care in their home countries.
In 2016, a total of eight doctors from abroad will take part: five from Uganda, including Okello, and three from Guyana.
The program also sends Canadian doctors abroad to train local doctors, partnering with universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals in countries that need more specialists.
Since the program’s creation three decades ago, more than 100 physicians have been trained, says Alan Sharpe, director of development at International Outreach.
The missionary spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton — whose motto is ‘it is a privilege to serve the poor’ — lives on through the program, he adds. The sisters had an emphasis on serving the poor and sick, regardless of race, gender, religion or social status.
“We train physicians regardless of their ability to pay,” explains Sharpe. “We cover the expense of bringing the physicians to Canada and we pay for their stay while here. We do not charge them for their training.”
Another physician currently training in St. Joseph’s Health System in Hamilton is Dr. Peace Bagasha, who works as a nephrologist in Uganda — a specialist in kidneys.
In Uganda, where she works at Mulago Hospital, she says that end-stage Kidney disease, treatable in Canada via dialysis or a kidney transplant, is equivalent to a death sentence.
“This is because they cannot afford dialysis,” says Bagasha. “Because of the limited nephrologists, there is very scanty chronic kidney disease care available to patients.”
When she wraps up her time in Hamilton this June, she hopes to be able to implement holistic kidney care in Uganda. “I want to teach medical school residents about kidney diseases and maybe one day we might be able to set up this model of a fellowship program so it can be available to more Ugandans.”
Like Okello, one of the greatest challenges in Uganda is serving a massive patient volume with very limited resources — so she’s grateful for the opportunity to hone her skills.
“This experience has given me exposure to an advanced healthcare system that is very efficient in ensuring excellent patient care and followup so they don’t fall through the cracks. I have really appreciated the value of coordination in bringing all the players in the healthcare system together.”