St. Joseph’s Health System’s International Outreach Program (IOP) is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The IOP is unlike any other program in Canada. The program brings doctors to Hamilton to train them on the latest medical practices. The doctors come from countries such as, Guyana, Haiti and Uganda. What differentiates IOP from other outreach programs is that it allows the doctors to “touch” the patients and prescribe medication.
Dr. Peace Bagasha from Kampala, Uganda started her studies with the IOP in August. In Uganda Bagasha works at Mulago Hospital as a nephrologist – a specialist in kidneys. She came to Canada to continue to learn about the field of nephrology because Uganda deals with a lot of kidney issues.
“It’s my inspiration for being here, kidney diseases are a huge, huge problem in Uganda,” said Bagasha. “In Uganda we not only have diabetes and hypertension, those are lifestyle illnesses. We have those but we also have a lot of infections like HIV, it’s pandemic in Uganda.”
The population of Uganda is around 36 million. Bagasha says there are only four nephrologists in the country. According to the Canadian Medical Association, Canada has 609 nephrologists. If a Ugandan has an issue with their kidneys it becomes a serious problem.
“The numbers are really overwhelming for the doctors looking after the kidneys,” said Bagasha. “Very few patients come to the nephrology clinic. Kidney disease is like a death sentence for us. Patients have to pay their bills for treatment like dialysis. Canadians have it lucky.”
Despite referring to kidney diseases in Uganda as “death sentences” Bagasha remains positive that she can make a difference once she gets home with new knowledge she has learned in Canada and through the IOP.
“Many times I ask myself what am I going to take back?” said Bagasha. “I think most importantly for me, the thing I’m going to take back the most is learning that even if you have limited resources there is still so much more you can do. A lot of things we are doing here can be taken back to Uganda without the worry of resource limitation.”
When Bagasha returns home, she says teaching will be the most important thing she can do.
“The whole idea is to get more nephrologists; me treating everyone can’t do much,” said Bagasha. “I have to teach as many people as possible to decrease the workload for myself. Uganda has a lot of doctors but the pay isn’t good. Once they get their medical degrees they leave for places like Canada or Australia. Hopefully I can motivate them to stay longer.”
Bagasha says she really enjoys what she does, and treating patients motivates her. When she joined IOP and came to Canada she left her husband, two children and extended family back at home, so she works hard for them.
“Every day I keep thinking that I have to make this count, despite feeling overwhelmed sometimes,” said Bagasha. “I left them there: this has to count for something, this year has to be worthwhile.”