By George Bita
KAMPALA-At the age of four, a little boy was admitted at Mulago Hospital cancer ward. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes. Owing to the expensive treatment, well-wishers came to his aid. It would not be in vain.
The soft spoken young man is no stranger at Iganga Hospital Cancer Department, but as he chats with people awaiting free screening, one may think he has never been a patient himself.
At only 29 years of age, he presents a posture of a youthful attendant at the facility as he briskly moves up and down to make sure those waiting in the queue are comfortable.
However, his life story is not a rosy one, for he had been literally condemned to death at a very tender age. But his resolve to get another chance at life helped him escape the jaws of death. It was definitely no easy feat.
The protracted battle took him over 20 years, before he could finally smell the sweet scent of victory. At just four years of age, Salim Bwagu was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes. His armpit and groin areas had developed swellings.
“I was put on therapy at Mulago Hospital’s Cancer Institute as a toddler in 1987. It was tough for my parents as this was an expensive treatment,” Bwagu says. Bwagu had to hobnob with cancer patients as well as classmates for almost 20 years, until he was declared free of cancer.
“This life-changing experience gave me the zeal to help others with similar life-threatening health conditions. I now realise that God heard me, so that I could save and change lives,” he narrates.
In June 2012, Bwagu developed an idea of setting up the Chronic Diseases Support Organisation (CDSO), a community-based organisation that cares for patients suffering from terminal illnesses in Busoga region.
By September of the same year, the organisation was registered as a community-based organisation to operate throughout Busoga region.
Composed of 20 volunteer members, CDSO, which has its headquarters on Bikadho Road, Iganga town, has been at the forefront of screening locals for cancer. Rehema Nankabirwa, Bwagu’s sister, observes that her brother has worked tirelessly to help other patients fight cancer while still at its early stages.
“He prides in assisting other patients since his hospital bills were paid for by well-wishers. Through CDSO, funding is sourced from donors to help those in need,” Nankabirwa explains.
Qudra Ssali, a skin cancer patient from Bukoyo village, says early diagnosis of his ailment was made possible by the untiring efforts of Bwagu. Dr. David Basoga Kintu of the Iganga Hospital Cancer Department says that CDSO is working in conjunction with the health facility to conduct free cancer screening in the area.
“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting at 10:30am, there is screening of cancer at the department. We go out on Tuesdays and Fridays with the voluntary team from CDSO to help cancer patients who are bedridden at home,” Kintu says. He says cancer, like HIV/AIDS, needs early diagnosis in order for the patients to benefit from drugs that offer much-needed relief.
Kintu adds that cancer and HIV/AIDS are somehow related, since most patients with HIV are prone to getting cancerous growths.
“This young man’s organisation not only helps cancer patients, but also those with HIV/AIDS who happen to develop cancer,” Kintu says.
Hassan Muyinda, a volunteer with CDSO, says over 1,250 people have been screened for cancer in the last three months. Siraji Katono, the Iganga mayor, praises Bwagu for having persisted on treatment until he emerged victorious.
“This survivor demands a lot of respect, first for the continual therapy he endured, before we look at the good he is now doing for the community.
Don’t we have many patients who instead give up or resort to traditional healers for help?” Katono asks. Bwagu says the organization encourages women to go for free cervical cancer testing every three months.
“Cancer treatment is effective only when the disease is identified in its early stages. It also requires patience,” he says. For the time being, it may not be certain how many lives he will save or change. However, what is clear is that Bwagu has taken the fight to the aggressor.
WHO IS SALIM BWAGU?
He was born on June 23, 1983 in Bulamagi village, Iganga district. Four years later, he was diagnosed with cancer and started a protracted 20-year-battle to get rid of it.
In 2007, Bwagu walked out of the Mulago Hospital Cancer Institute when he was declared cancer-free with a decision to help others win the fight against chronic diseases.
The holder of an IT degree from Kampala University graduated in 2006, a year before he was declared cancer-free. He attended Iganga Town Council Primary School, where he sat his PLE in 1996. Bwagu then joined Bukoyo Secondary School for O’ and A’level and completed in 2002.