The Coronavirus has ravaged the globe to unimaginable proportions, with the brunt of the disease being borne in varying ways across different societies. In Uganda, businesses have crumbled, families decimated and social ties broken by the disease and its consequences like death and the much-loathed lockdowns — two so far, since 2020. This is a dark cloud indeed!
But like goes the old adage; every dark cloud has a silver lining. Even as the Covid-19 menace has cast a dark cloud across Uganda, a team of Bugisu-based influential brothers has teamed up to turn their own affliction by the disease into an opportunity to empower and help the Bugisu Community fight the disease.
The siblings; Cosmas Busima Mafabi and Gregory Gidagui Mafabi, took the bold step after the dreaded pandemic threatened to take nine of their family members following the outbreak of the second wave of covid-19.
Precisely, their turning point dawned when Gidagui was struck by the disease together with his entire family including his wife and six children. After his battle with Covid-19 which nearly claimed his life, the family formed the Francisco Giboni Mafabi Foundation in memory of their late father who died in 1994.
Through this foundation, the Mafabis have embarked on enhancing government’s Covid-19 fight with the hope that using their own ugly experience, they can touch as many souls suffering with the disease as possible.
The Foundation’s CEO Busima told The Inspector that to achieve their dream, they co-opted other friends and experts to help in the community Covid-19 fight. The other members of the foundation include Warrant Officer II (WO2) Jackson Wosukira who is a Coordinator and Dr. Dominic Wabuloko who is the Foundation’s frontline person/technical advisor. Gidagui serves as the foundation’s Chairman in charge of fundraising as well as Legal Secretary.
The Family Misfortune
Foundation coordinator Wosukira narrates that at the dawn of the second wave of the Coronavirus, he together with his family members looked on and were waiting for the wave to pass since they had gone through the first wave of the disease without any issues. However, they would get a scare when their brother Gregory Gidagui together with his wife and six children all got struck by the virus.
“It was a devastating blow to us because at the time there were so many deaths. We were therefore very scared because being in the age bracket that is most affected by Covid-19,” Wosukira says.
Gidagui’s Close Shave With death
Gidagui says he is not certain on the actual dates when he contracted the disease or how he contracted it. He however says that for about one month, he suffered bouts of fever and had low body energy. However, results for malaria tests always came out negative yet the feeling of sickness persisted.
He however inadvertently learnt that he was carrying Covid-19 when he finally tested for the disease. His testing, however, was more of casual because he did it the day he took his daughter Pauline Wanyenze to test after she returned from school with clear signs of Covid.
“My daughter was in boarding at St. Anthony Kajjansi but returned home with a very bad flu and cough. At the same time she complained of constant headaches. I put her on flu and cough medication but there was no change. I therefore suspected that she had Covid so I took her for testing at Mulago national referral hospital,” Gidagui narrates.
He says the daughter’s test came out positive and this is when he also tested on June 7, 2021 and his own results came out positive the following day.
Having ascertained that the deadly enemy had invaded his family, he decided to test his entire family (which includes relatives). Out of the over 30 family members whose testing he funded, at least 7 more turned out to be positive including Gidagui’s wife and his five other children.
“At that time there were very many announcements of victims claimed by covid-19 so the fear was immense. I must admit I was so scared but because I’m a firm believer in the divine mercy of God I decided to put the fears away and battle the disease,” he says.
During the first wave of the pandemic, Gidagui had closely worked with the Mbale Regional Taskforce to which he donated relief food worth Shs7m that was distributed to needy people across the six districts of Bugisu. He therefore contacted one Dr. Dominic Wabuloko with whom he had collaborated that time.
After explaining to him his condition, Dr. Wabuloko deduced that because Gidagui had been largely asymptomatic, his Covid-19 was mild. He thus prescribed for him home isolation coupled with treatment and exercise to keep his lungs active and oxygen levels high.
Beating the disease
“To ensure that we adhere to treatment, I mooted the idea of a collective fight. I therefore put all my positive children on treatment. We would steam everyday with dragon and axle balms and then take the tablets followed by daily exercise,” he says. For the tablets, they took daily doses of Ivermectine, Dexamethasone, Azithromycin, Zinc, Aspirin and Vitamin C. luckily for Gidagui, he managed to beat the disease within 4 days although he took the full dose of 10 days.
But while he and his daughter were cured of the disease quickly, the challenge was on his wife who remained bedridden and was even hospitalized for weeks.
“For her the disease had progressed to the lungs and they had started losing functionality,” he explains.
He is however thankful to Mother Mary because he sought her intercession and his prayers were heard. “My children’s mother is still sickly but she is past the scary stages; at least most of the water and mucus in her lungs have cleared and now we are on treatment to heal the wounds and infection she got in the lungs; but I’m optimistic for her full recovery,” he says.
And then the foundation
A staunch Catholic, Gidagui says that being struck by Corona but healing quickly despite the many deaths showed him that God still loved him and was showing him that he has a purpose to fulfill for him. To answer God’s call, he contacted his elder brother Busima and mooted the idea of starting a foundation in memory of their father. Through it, they would then be able to help other Bagisu to overcome the virus just like he did.
He copted his brother well aware that being a politician, he had the necessary contacts to mobilize beneficiaries since is a former Budadiri East MP and former NRM Deputy Chief Whip in the 7th Parliament.
Already, the foundation has hit the ground and the impact is being felt across Bugisu. Busima says that they mobilized late Francisco Giboni Mafabi children and grandchildren who pooled Shs50m into the fund. This money will all be dedicated to fund Covid-19 prevention and treatment.
After getting the funds, Busima and Wosukira did a needs assessment to find out how best the Mafabis would enhance government’s fight against covid-19. “Being lay people, we did not want to antagonize government but instead our intention was to enhance its programme,” Busima says. From the survey, they realized that across Bugisu there was so much distortion of government’s message especially as regards the lockdown and observance of the SOPs.
“We for instance realized that some people believe the lockdown is meant to impoverish common people; there were also claims that the disease only affected the rich and so was not in the villages. As such, people were going about drinking normally while even sharing tubes at the ‘buusera’ (malwa/ajon) joints. Matters were worsened by the enforcement practices of punishing and penalising those found in breach of the SOPs and curfew,” he adds. This called for a mindset change campaign on local radios in Bugisu and on social media. During such programs, the Mafabis have reached out to the locals deep in the villages explaining to them the danger in sharing tubes and hiding in banana plantations so as to drink away from the prying eyes of the enforcement agencies.
And on a daily basis, they each record and share message relating to covid-19 prevention, treatment and policy releases/new research from the Ministry of Health.
To entrench the foundation’s activities better, they have created linkages with government structures including the resident district commissioners (RDC), District Health Officer (DHO), Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) and LC5 Chairpersons. “These link us to the Covid-19 district taskforces through which we are channeling donations meant to help our people in the fight against Covid-19,” Wosukira revealed. Under this arrangement, they have so far purchased and donated equipment including 40 doses of Covidex as well as other assorted drugs used to treat the disease. These, on top of masks and sanitizers, have been extended to the 12 health centre IV’s across the Bugisu districts of Manafwa, Sironko, Mbale, Namisindwa, Bulambuli and Bududa. Wosukira says that as well as helping the patients, they also extend aid to the medics at the health centres and so far they have given masks and sanitizers to medics at Buwasa, Muyembe and Bukigayi Health Centre IV’s on top of Bududa Hospital. Other centres include Magale and Busiu among others. The brothers revealed that once the pandemic is overcome, they intend to continue supporting the community through promoting environmental security to mitigate landslides, safe circumcision initiatives among others.
“Once God commands you to fulfill a certain mission you cannot have limits; he gave me a second chance and I must use it to help others,” says a now renewed Gidagui.