By Irene Nabusoba
FOR Patrick Imoni, 30, a peasant from Tororo, his life was practically hanging on a thread. Even if he were to sell all he owns, he could not afford the $7,000 (sh12.4m) surgery to correct the hole in his heart.
Joel Oroni, Imoniâ€™s uncle, a student of Bsc. Information Technology, at Makerere University says he was volunteering at International Hospital Kampalaâ€™s (IHK) records department, when he decided to bring Imoni for thorough tests.
â€œThat was in 2005. Uncle had sold all his animals and land to get treatment, but nothing was working. Results showed that he has a heart disease and needed open heart surgery,â€ Oroni says.
Imoni reportedly went back to the village to await his fate.
But his hope is now renewed. Hwan Sung Medical Charity Services is going to foot his open-heart surgery bills at IHK. The permanent charity, an initiative of Hwan Sung Group of Companies, is to pay over $35,000 (about 62m) for free open heart surgery for five Ugandans from October 1 to 3.
Apart from Imoni, the other beneficiaries are 11-month-old Dan Bakira, Rashid Matovu, 8, Afra Namirimu, 10 and Thabit Senfuka, 24.
An additional three beneficiaries who will present with complex heart conditions that cannot be managed by IHK shall be flown to Korea for the procedure at a cost of $20,000 (sh35m) each, still courtesy of the Sung charity.
â€œIâ€™m the happiest mother in the world. I had almost lost hope when a friend advised me to apply to Hwan Sung on behalf of my daughter.
We could not afford the treatment because I have just finished school and have no job and the father is just a trader,â€ Namirimuâ€™s mother, Sarah Nagujja. Namirimu, who is in Primary Five, has reportedly been in and out of school because of her ill health.
The charity supports 25-30 patients of cataract (a geriatric disease that affects the lens of the eye and causes a gradual loss of sight), 10-15 patients of harelip (a condition when somebody is born with their upper lip split) and 1-2 patients of heart diseases, monthly.
â€œWe have been meeting medical costs for disadvantaged Ugandans since April this year. We set aside $10,000 (sh17m) every month for this charity,â€ says Sung Hwan Kim, the chairman Hwan Sung Group of Companies, also the honorary counsel of the Republic of Korea to Uganda.
â€œItâ€™s our way of giving back to society. I have seen so many appeals for medical help for heart surgery abroad, often with minimal responses. We entered an agreement with IHK to meet the costs of such conditions while they provide the medical services,â€ Sung says.
Sung says that some cleft lip and eye patients have already received treatment.
K.H. Min, the director of Hwan Sung Industries says they chose these three conditions because they are common, yet many of the patients cannot afford the cost of treatment.
â€œCleft lip and heart problems are often congenital, are permanent deformities and the reconstructive surgery required is beyond the means of many patients,â€ Min says. He adds: â€œWe also chose cataract because itâ€™s common in old people who are either dependants or supporting many people. We shall gradually expand these free medical services to cover other diseases.â€
To access the scheme, one has to pick the application form from Hwan Sung Furniture Showroom opposite Shell Jinja Road, fill it, and submit it there with two recommendation letters from local authorities.
â€œPeople from upcountry can use their MPs or LCs to pick the forms and submit them to our showroom. Our policy gives preference to sufferers upcountry,â€ Min says.
Hwan Sung group of Companies, which imports furniture, deals in alluminium works, sandwich panels for roofing and owns a fish processing plant, was founded in 1986 and currently employs over 700 Ugandans.
Dr Ian Clarke, the CEO and proprietor of IHK, hails the partnership, saying it is another way of supporting poor patients who are admitted to the Hope Ward, the hospitalâ€™s charity wing.
â€œHwan Sungâ€™s arrangement caters for particular categories of ailments and you apply directly to them. We meet 50% of all our patients in Hope Ward,â€ Clarke says.
He says the Hwan Sung/IHK partnership is such that they screen the applicants, provide the services while the Hwan Sung charity meets the costs.