Bwambale Arafat watched in horror as his relatives carried out a series of attacks on his aunt. They prevented her from attending her husband’s funeral, vandalized her house, and physically and sexually assaulted her. The reason? Suspicion of using witchcraft to murder her husband. The real cause of his death was liver cancer caused by viral hepatitis B infection.
The son of a tailor who worked his way up to become a public health officer, Arafat was an intern at Bwera General Hospital in western Uganda in 2015, where his uncle was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma cancer secondary to hepatitis B infection. The cancer was too much for his uncle to survive. Days before his uncle died, his relatives went on an angry rampage fueled by misinformation. Arafat did his best to teach them the truth, even showing them the post-mortem report.
“Family members started blaming my uncle’s wife, saying that she had poisoned him,” said Arafat. “My aunt was chased away, unable to care for her husband, and I have not seen her since. For me, I am now able to make my humble contribution and spread awareness surrounding hepatitis. I think there is a lack of awareness among the general population, and that’s why my aunt was being mistreated and was thought to be bewitched.”
Because of his experience, Arafat was motivated to open the Great Lakes Peace Centre (GLPC), where he serves as head of health promotion. GLPC is a grassroots, youth-led organization in the town of Kasese in the Rwenzori subregion of Western Uganda that provides hepatitis B patients with care, treatment, and information about their disease.
“The purpose of GLPC is to generate home-grown solutions to the problems that are prominent in our community,” said Arafat. “Our region has a lot of tension and recycling of conflict between communities.
We felt that, as young people, we must come together to galvanize efforts to provide home-grown solutions for these, among which were health pressures.”
The group’s work was compromised by COVID-19 lockdown measures in March 2020. With public transportation shut down, many civilians were left without a way to get their medicine.
Arafat rallied five young volunteers to deliver the medicine by motorbike, bicycle, and foot. As of March 2021, the team had delivered medications to more than 350 patients suffering from illnesses like hepatitis B, liver cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. They borrowed motorcycles from friends, raised funds for fuel, and found ways to reach patients despite inclement weather and difficult terrain.
Today, Arafat and his team continue to raise awareness, screen, test, vaccinate, and give treatment to patients of hepatitis B even amidst shortage of personal protective medical gear and other financial challenges in collaboration with Bwera General Hospital.
For these efforts, he has been honored as a Hepatitis Elimination Champion by The Task Force for Global Health’s Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination, which supports countries’ planning, implementation and evaluation of programs to eliminate hepatitis B and C.
Arafat is passionate about his role in helping to eliminate hepatitis and also about the need for universal health coverage.
“There must be universal health coverage for every person. No one must be left behind due to race, sickness or gender. We must be able to act within our means to make sure everyone is able to utilize and access health care,” said Arafat.
Photos courtesy of Bwambale Arafat.
Photos courtesy of Bwambale Arafat.