Hamilton eases shortage of kidney specialists in Uganda

By Joanna Frketich, Hamilton Spectator

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Dr. Anthony Batte is halfway around the world from his own small children so he can learn from Hamilton doctors how to save the lives of countless kids back home in East Africa.

Uganda has just one children’s kidney specialist for the entire country. There are no pediatric nephrologists at the hospital Batte works at in Kampala.

“Most die in our country because we have limited services we can offer,” Batte said about kids needing kidney treatment. “We watch them die.”

Determined to do more, Batte reached out to St. Joseph’s Health System’s International Outreach Program. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the charity brings doctors from developing countries to Hamilton to train. It also sends area health-care professionals overseas to educate and build capacity.

“Being away from my family, it’s not so easy,” said Batte.

He’s only seen his three children, between the ages of 18 months to six years, on Skype video chat since arriving in October for one-year of training at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“But Canada gives me the opportunity to see a child with kidney disease survive,” he said. “I can bring this picture back home and explore improving the services.”

Dr. Peace Bagasha has also left her husband and two children in Uganda for a year with the hope of improving kidney care. She will become the fifth adult kidney specialist in a country of more than 37 million people when she returns in July.

To compare, Canada has just over 600 nephrologists for nearly the same number of people.

“There is a big need,” said Bagasha, pointing out parts of the country has no access to life-saving treatment such as dialysis. “If we have more nephrologists, we can set up centres in different areas and provide kidney care.”

Both doctors plan to take what they learn in Hamilton to improve treatment, teach their colleagues and students the specialty back home, as well as fight for more equipment and supplies for kidney care.

“Before you couldn’t push harder for the equipment and supplies because we had limited skills and knowledge (to use it),” said Batte. “Now I can ask because I know how to use it, I know what to ask for and I know the effect it will have.”

The long-term goal for both doctors is to eventually set up a fellowship program in nephrology in Uganda.

“I’ll be alone in the hospital,” Batte said about being the only children’s kidney specialist. “As a single person I can do something, but not as much. I’ll continue to advocate for more to get trained so we can have a good number.”

Both doctors say they have had a warm welcome in Canada, particularly from the specialists and staff at St. Joseph’s.

“It is a special privilege for me,” Bagasha said about being part of the program.

“People are willing to help you,” said Batte, who doesn’t feel alone despite missing his family.

“I’m not on an island where I’m a stranger.”

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