By Flavia Lanyero
It is not easy to get hold of Dr Michael Muhumuza on any given day, much less on a week day. If he is not performing an operation, he is checking his patients in Ward 3A of Mulago Hospital or consulting patients whereas his mobile phone constantly ringing with callers, usually patients asking about one thing or another. “It’s not easy. It’s tough,” he says when he finally sits down to have an interview with me. The consulting neurosurgeon and also Acting Head of the Neurosurgical unit at Mulago Hospital is one of the only six government neurosurgeons in the country, four of them based at Mulago. This means that this team is always up and working, considering the number of patients who flock the unit on a daily basis.
Their backlog is even worsened by the fact that regional referral hospitals have no capacity to diagnose or operate brain ailments, thus, patients from all over the country go to Mulago hospital to see a specialised brain doctor. “Many of our cases are emergencies. By the time a person comes from the countryside, it is always too late,” says Dr Muhumuza. “The mothers and their babies in wards, for example, spend a lot of time here waiting for an operation which is not good. Yet if we had specialists there, some of these cases could be handled in the regional referral hospitals before it is too late.”
Statistics from the hospital show that there are 50-60 in-patients at the neurosurgical unit at any given time. This is despite the fact that the unit was designed for only 25 beds. The biggest number of patients at the unit is those with head injuries, he says, usually as a result of accidents` and iron bar victims. The other rampant brain ailments received at the unit are; congenital anomalies – babies born with swellings on their bodies like on the head; brain tumours; spinal cord conditions – including tumours, and discs and intracranial infections or brain infections.
Although some of the brain conditions have known causes, doctors say that causes of most tumours are unknown. Dr Muhumuza says the majority of patients at Mulago Hospital are in need of surgery. Before a neurosurgical theatre was opened up at the hospital early this month, operations were only done twice a week, meaning that patients had to wait for weeks and months before they could be worked on for free.