A Ugandan civil court is suing Renee Bach, a United States national who started a medical center for severely malnourished children in Uganda, while she was in her twenties and with no professional qualifications for the purpose, for her responsibility in the deaths of at least 105 children.
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“If a 20-something Ugandan woman had gone to the U.S. and set up an equivalent arrangement to treat impoverished U.S. children, she would have been prosecuted. She would have been behind bars," said Primah Kwagala, a Ugandan civil rights attorney.
Kwagala says the lawsuit is essential as the families who lost their children deserve justice and need to be compensated.
"We couldn't imagine a human being without skill taking into her care children that were almost on their deathbeds," the attorney added.
After volunteering in a missionary-run orphanage for nine months in 2007 in the city of Jinja, Renee Bach decided to settle down in the east-central African country, when she was still a 20-year-old high school graduate.
Jinja, located on the shores of Lake Victoria, was a hub for volunteers from the U.S. at the time she arrived. The city is surrounded by many extremely poor villages, and numerous U.S. missionaries set up there a host of charities. A huge number of teens raised in evangelical churches streamed to volunteer in the coastal town.
“It felt like a calling from God,” Bach said in an interview with the National Public Radio, explaining her decision to implement the center that didn't have a single doctor on staff and was even less a hospital. Yet, during five years, between 2010 and 2015 it took in more than 900 severely malnourished children, among whom 105 died.
Jackie Kramlich a volunteer who spent some months in the center recalls her experience.
"It was the summer of 2011 and I went in with a lot of admiration," she says.
The volunteer, who had just been certified as a registered nurse, was taken aback to realize just how sick the children were. They weren't just malnourished, they had complicated illnesses, Kramlich recalled.
"Pneumonia, intestinal parasites, tuberculosis, many were in stage four HIV," the former volunteer said, adding that almost every week a child died.
She also said that Bach would handle a lot of medical care and make the medical decisions herself.
Bach confirmed she would sometimes perform medical procedures such as running the tubing into a child for a blood transfusion or inserting an IV.
Under both international and Ugandan law, if a critically malnourished child suffers the kind of complications Bach's center was undertaking, then the child must be treated in an advanced medical facility, ideally, a hospital.
Bach argues she accepted these complicated cases because there didn't seem to be a better place for them. But even if there was a need for more care facilities for malnourished children, specialists in medical ethics say it was not appropriate for her to try to provide it.
"Just think of the arrogance," says Lawrence Gostin, who heads the Center on National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. "Who are you to assume that you can do better than they can? It's not your judgment call to make."
Gostin adds that he sees her actions as stemming from an attitude many U.S. nationals bring to developing countries.
"The U.S. cultural narrative is that these countries are basket cases."