The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is working with physician Kigabo Mbazumutima to create a new nonprofit organization that aims to improve medical care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Students in the Technology Ventures Services Group at the College of Law established the corporation’s bylaws and helped put together an application for status as a nonprofit organization with the Internal Revenue Service, said Eric Menkhus, the group’s director.
Mbazumutima said partnering with ASU has allowed his dream of bringing better medical technology and training to his country to become a reality.
“I feel so fortunate to be connected with Arizona State University’s program … Before I met them, everything I was doing was still a dream. It was not an organization — we were just speaking about my dream and my effort to try and do something about improving access to health care in Africa,” Mbazumutima said. “They said ‘We will help you, to give a legal foundation to your dream,’ because if you don’t have a legal foundation you cannot function as a nonprofit.”
Mbazumutima said he was unsure how to begin the process of starting a new nonprofit organization, but with ASU’s help the project began to materialize earlier this year.
“All I have to do is to answer their questions and say, ‘How do you think to achieve these things?’ and together we’ll come up with an agreement,” he said. “It was hard to say how I was planning on doing it without knowing really how to achieve it, but they said, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll collaborate to find a way to achieve it.’”
Menkhus said he was drawn to the project for several reasons, including its focus on technology.
Providing medical technology to Africa is key in helping to develop health care, Mbazumutima said.
“Right now it’s just the best guess of the doctor; they are treating a broken bone without X-ray machines. All they’ve got sometimes are the stethoscope and arm cuff [for blood pressure],” he said. “It’s important that we give doctors access to medical technology so they can provide better care.”
One way the organization hopes to provide better medical technology to the region is through a partnership with the American Medical Resources Foundation, which Menkhus said has offered to donate medical equipment once funds to ship the equipment are raised.
Mbazumutima said the American Medical Research Foundation has “a huge warehouse, full of medical equipment, that can go and really change health care in my village and the surrounding areas.”
The foundation collects medical equipment from manufacturing companies and hospitals in the U.S. that donate older equipment as newer technology becomes available.
“When [hospitals] renew the equipment they just get rid of the one they have been using, even if they are still fully functioning,” he said.
Mbazumutima said it is ultimately his goal to prevent the unnecessary deaths he witnessed growing up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The main goal is to provide medical technology training and facility development and collaborate with local institutes to come together to inspire them to talk about [the] possibility of developing the type of health care that will save so many lives of people who die from easily treatable disease, prevent them from dying with something they can fix,” he said.
Mbazumutima said his sister, Anne Natasha Nanzigirwa, died in childbirth after traveling for four days to a hospital in 1987.
“We had to carry her on one of those beds that you make and tie sticks together and then people carried her on their shoulders,” Mbazumutima said. “When we got there they didn’t have the proper medical equipment and all they were able to do was push on her stomach to get the baby out.”
Mbazumutima said his other sister Rose Mapendo also had to deal with poor conditions in childbirth and gave birth to twins on the cement floor of the prison cell where she was held for racial reasons during the country’s civil war in 1998.
He detailed how Mapendo used her own hair to tie off the umbilical cord before cutting the cord with a piece of wood.
Mapendo’s situation was ultimately what brought Mbazumutima to the United States, he said. In 2000 Mapendo was rescued from the prison camp where she was being held and brought to the U.S. with her 10 children, he said.
Mbazumutima said his sister expressed some hesitation about relocating to the U.S. because she didn’t know any English, but he told her she should go.
“I told her, ‘I’ve never been to America, but they are the best country,’” he said. “They saved your life, they will be able to help you.”
New life in US
In 2004, Mbazumutima followed his sister to the United States. after she spent long periods of time in the hospital suffering from depression.
Moving to the U.S. closed the door to providing better medical assistance to his village because his medical degree was not valid in the U.S., he said.
“I just thought, ‘This was the end of my dream, it was just finished forever,’ but my sister is more than my medical career,” he said.
He spent time at the University of Phoenix learning English, which made him realize his dream was still achievable, he said.
“I was sharing some ideas I had for my dream as a class assignment. What I found … was the reaction and feedback and students in the class, it was so positive. I was expecting the teacher to tell me, ‘That’s crazy stuff, we are in America, this is not Africa,’” Mbazumutima said. “But it was the opposite, the reaction was just … absolutely great. This dream I thought was dead was not quite dead, it was just inactive somewhere.”
A physician’s inspiration
Janie Magruder, associate director of community at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law said Mbazumutima’s passion for his ideas was obvious when she met him.
“He’s very passionate about his family, his sisters. What drives him are the two women in his life,” Magruder said.
Mbazumutima said his sister Nanzigirwa continues to be the inspiration behind his work.
“My sister, she is the one that inspired me. She always told me, ‘You are doing well in school. Please, you can become the first doctor in our village.’ That is my inspiration and also her death, the way she died — giving birth because nobody knew how to do a [Caesarian] section — but I know how to do that now,” Mbazumutima said.
Changing Africa’s future
In the future, Mbazumutima said he hopes to not only bring better medical technology and training but to establish permanent medical facilities in villages throughout the region.
Most villages in the East Congo and the surrounding region lack permanent medical facilities.
Magruder said Mbazumutima is working to establish permanent health clinics to replace the temporary setups currently in the area.
“As opposed to American doctors who come in and set up tents and then leave, he wants something more permanent,” she said.
Mbazumutima said the typical medical attention seen in the area is for doctors, nurses and technicians to bring equipment during, for example, a meningitis outbreak and stay for weeks or months to care for the sick people.
“But once it’s under control, they wrap up everything and they get into the plane — they go,” Mbazumutima said. “They don’t empower us, they just come with their technology, their stuff, they do work and then they go, and we are left the same.”
Mbazumutima said the goal of his nonprofit organization is to change that and generate better medical care within the country.
“We will be helping people to have technology, have training and to build health care facilities in a remote area, where people have to spend like four days before they can reach the closest hospital,” Mbazumutima said.
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