Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1338 EAT on Saturday 9th July 2022.
Last week, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Bakireke Nambooze travelled to the United States of America for treatment after being cleared by the Uganda Medical Board (UMB).
This development came after three years of being rebuffed several times by UMB, the government agency charged with clearing Ugandans seeking medical attention from outside the country. In a lengthy interview, Nambooze from the US, she said that when she returns to Uganda after about three months of treatment, her preoccupation will be pushing the government to establish not only a spine treatment centre but also a torture treatment centre.
Nambooze who has previously had two surgeries on her back, traces her health problem to 2017 when government security forces attacked parliament as President Yoweri Museveni tried to push through the constitutional amendment on age limits that paved his way to a sixth term.
Nambooze and her Mityana municipality counterpart Francis Zaake sustained the most grievous injuries that required to be treated outside the country.
For Nambooze, she was treated in India where she had to return for review after three months in 2018. However, she said efforts to have the medical board clear her proved insurmountable until the intervention of the speaker of parliament Anita Among.
Nambooze’s health had started to become of concern after she developed a medical condition known as peripheral neuropathy. This is a condition which results from damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord.
According to mayoclinic.org, this condition often causes weakness, numbness and pain usually in the hands and feet. It can also affect other areas and body functions including digestion and urination among others.
To Nambooze, this condition has caused difficult vision, loss of body temperature control and loss of body balance. It is the lack of balance that has been causing her to fall a number of times hence necessitating going to hospital, where she stayed for over three weeks until she travelled to the US.
In the interview, Nambooze said her almost five-year medical journey has made her realize how important it is for Uganda to have a centre which treats people with spinal injuries. She says in trying to find a local remedy to her injuries, she came face to face with the reality that even when there are doctors who can handle spine treatment, there are no facilities required for the same.
Nambooze says there are many torture and accident victims who badly require spine surgeries but can’t access them. She says if the government were to set up such a centre, they would save a lot of money that they are spending to treat people outside the country.
She adds that even when she is against spending millions of shillings on treating selected people outside the country, there is no way she would turn down her treatment offer because she doesn’t want to become a martyr especially when she got her injuries at the hands of government operatives. She adds that actually, she is going to use her situation to become a voice for better funding for the health sector.
“It doesn’t add up to find money to treat Nambooze instead of thinking of establishing a centre – what government can give me for treatment – I don’t want to be a martyr, I should not be a martyr because some people say this is double standards you pick money to go for treatment abroad. It is a very unfair system,” she said.
The hospital that is treating Nambooze, demanded $180,000 (about Shs 676 million) as the treatment fee without other welfare expenses.
needed only $30,000 to go back to India for review but now I need $180,000 for the hospital without my upkeep,” Nambooze said.
“I was only going to spend two weeks in India now the Americans are telling me I’m going to spend between two and three months. The government has altogether given me Shs 400 million; it’s a lot of money when someone hears it, but I’m going to pay the hospital $180,000; I have to get accommodation; air ticket; caregivers; transport; physiotherapy; visiting nurse; buying medicine which I use every three hours, it’s not enough”.
Call for justice
Other than calling for the establishment of spine and torture treatment centres, Nambooze wants the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) to be strengthened so that those accused of perpetrating torture are brought to book.
“If you are to treat somebody who has suffered from torture, you treat both the body and the mind so we need to up our game and punish those who torture others,” the now disabled MP goes on.
“You will never be able to get people out of their suffering when you don’t bring the culprits to book especially when they are known. Maybe, what I’m suffering is what the Muslims who have been tortured are suffering from but there is no one to talk for them.”
In Nambooze’s case, she said she will not rest until former Kampala Metropolitan Police commander, Frank Mwesigwa is held accountable for the injuries he caused her.
Mwesigwa was one of the officers who commanded the raid on parliament to remove opposition MPs who had for two days heckled and stopped parliament from discussing the constitutional amendments.
“The question we should ask ourselves is; who is that person who beat an MP to the extent that she requires all that taxpayers’ money for her to be treated?,” she says.
“That’s what I told the speaker, that even if she gives me the money before Frank Mwesigwa who commanded the people who tortured me has not been brought to book, I will not heal. This problem is treated in two ways; one medical and the other psychological. Tell me how you would feel if you can’t even put on a pantie without support because of something done to you by somebody and he is not held accountable?”
She added that she will be pushed to extremes like appealing to tourists to stop coming to Uganda if Mwesigwa is not held accountable. Mwesigwa is now the commander of the wildlife police.
“It was a deliberate attack on my life by people led by Frank Mwesigwa who was then the commander of police for the southern Kampala region. Since then, I have been in and out of hospital ending up with two separate surgeries on my backbone. One of the things I suffered consequently, was that the body started losing some of its functions because of the nature of the surgery I have to undergo to save my life. I was warned by the medics that I would suffer such things because of the centrality of that position on the human body because some of my nerves were broken…I was advised that I have to handle the issue of body temperature manually using a fan and heater depending on what the weather of the day would demand. I also lost my sight, now I have glasses with 3 lenses – one for the sun, another for generally seeing and the third lens is for reading,” said Nambooze.
Husband becomes helper
For the last four close to five years, Nambooze says her husband Henry Bakireke has had to abandon his work as a road engineer to become her full-time helper. She says she cannot manage even the slightest of the tasks without requiring help.
“Wherever I go, I have to go with him because I can’t even carry my handbag,” she explains. “I’m grateful to the new leadership at parliament because they have done for me what the previous leaders refused to; to pay my helper because now I’m a disabled MP. I move in a specialized vehicle; actually, the Shs 200 million that they give each MP to buy a car is not enough for my specialised car. To buy that car wasn’t very easy. Up to now, I’m still paying. Someone would ask; why don’t I stop being an MP, I’m telling you, I would have died. I told the people of Mukono that if they don’t vote for me again, I’m going to die. I know the work they have voted me for and I’m doing it but, there is nowhere I’m going to get the money to pay for my medical expenses. At least when you are an MP, you have medical insurance to cater for the medical bills. Never forget by the way that I got these injuries while I was doing my job as an MP,” she added.
Nambooze adds that her greatest cause of pain and anguish is when someone sadistically claims that she was never injured, that she is just making it up: “That thing pains me a lot and actually, it adds onto my sickness. They are even making fun of my husband that he’s no longer a man and since he is not a Muslim, that he cannot get another woman. If I hadn’t had children, I wouldn’t be able to have them. My problem entails both of us not working; so, we sit at home and look at each other and if I wasn’t an MP, we wouldn’t be able to keep our children in school