Dr. Nandawula Kanyerezi: A personal account by a Diaspora Investor
Dr. Nandawula Kanyerezi MD. a Diplomat in Internal Medicine, a Certified member of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the Executive Director/Lead Physician at Clinic at The Mall.
“It is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to speak to all of you today. You are all in great position to play an influential role in the development of our home—Uganda—that I am sure we can agree we would all like to see. The diaspora, full of well-educated and experienced professionals that have spent significant time in the developed world, needs to help foster the economic and societal growth within Uganda.
I am here to recount my first-hand experiences in this development, not only addressing the benefits it has on the Ugandan community but also the challenges I have faced along the way. First, I would like to tell you a bit about myself, in order to contextualize my work in Uganda and where my ideas originated”, welcome remarks by Dr. Nandawula Kanyerezi
Born and partly raised in Uganda, she had lived most of her life in the diaspora. As a young child, she lived in Scotland and the US while her father Prof. Bwogi Kanyerezi was furthering his studies in Medicine. As an adolescent, she spent significant time living in Kenya and then Saudi Arabia, as her parents—like many other professionals then—were forced to leave the country and live in exile.
Upon completion of high school degree, she moved to India to study medicine at the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, graduating in 1990, she returned to Uganda for a year and worked at Mulago Hospital as an Intern. In the process, she got married and moved to the US with her husband, where she lived for the past 26 years. In 1997, she began her medical career with the City of Cincinnati Health Department as a Primary Care Physician, serving the poor and uninsured residents of the area. In addition to providing health care, I partnered with the Cincinnati School of Medicine and Nursing School to provide outpatient training for medical students, residents, and nurse practitioners.
Following a 17-year period working with the City Health Department, she returned to Kampala in 2015 to open the Clinic at the Mall. she sought to be a part of creating the change she wanted to see in healthcare delivery in her home country. While working in the diaspora, she had too often heard stories about medical situations at home that had been handled poorly. Instead of talking about them and lamenting “if only this had been done”, she opted to come take part in creating a different, and more productive, medical environment.
Developing her medical business had definitely not been an easy task, yet it had been fulfilling every day. She was able to provide healthcare services to those in the greater Kampala region that were not necessarily readily available before. Much of this was due to the valuable knowledge and experience she was able to receive during my time spent working in the United States. For example, soon after they opened their doors in January 2015, a curious 41-year-old gentleman walked into the clinic having read what services were providing on the sign at our door.
He asked if he could have an ECG just to check his heart out. The staff advised him it would be important for him to have a complete physical exam. He was reluctant since he believed he had been getting what he needed by going to a lab in town every few months, having loads of routine tests done. He eventually agreed to have a complete exam. At the end of his visit with he, she noted he had an elevated PSA. The following day, he brought in the serial labs he had been doing and indeed, his PSA had been on the rise for a while but no one had explained what it meant to him.
See, laboratories were not the place to go for healthcare. In the end, he was diagnosed with Prostate cancer.
At this young age, it was important for him to have robotic surgery which we did not have at home. He was referred for surgery abroad, and was back 10 days later with a clean bill of health.
In addition, Dr Nandawula was been able to partner with both governmental and nongovernmental agencies to provide services to those in need, ensuring they receive the best care and treatment possible.
Through an NGO they started—called Art With A Cause—they raised funds to educate the community about breast cancer, and screen women with mammography who would otherwise not be in a position to do so themselves.
They have been seeking to screen as many women as possible and to encourage those who could do so on their own to go ahead and get their annual mammograms. “Together, we shall put a dent in Breast cancer” said Dr Nandawula.
Through this they were able to expose the Ugandan population to information they had not previously known about, or knew, but did not follow through regarding their own healthcare maintenance.
While they were able to see many positives through their work, there were plenty of challenges along the way. Dr Nandawula said, “I would like to address the state of both the physical and societal infrastructure within our country. First, when starting a small business in the United States, for example, the government provides tax breaks in order to foster growth, allowing the company to gain traction and stability within the market. Unfortunately, in Uganda, the government—through the Uganda Revenue Authority—does not afford young companies the same privileges, instead taxing at high rates. This becomes very difficult for a company that is not immediately earning profits”.
She further said that the governmental infrastructure needed to accommodate new business development and investment with tax breaks, in order to see greater economic growth.
“Furthermore, to foster business development, the government and the central bank ought to consider vital sectors of the economy like health, and avail them with loans with lower interest rates. This would go a long way in allowing the private health sector to grow and provide more advanced care” she said.
Second, the physical infrastructure within the nation was still a challenge—specifically, electricity. Umeme, the main power provider, had created a monopoly within the population, allowing them to act as they wished. “There must be regulation that minimizes corruption and unfair actions by such big corporations. In addition, they must be able to produce and supply the power demand that their consumers have agreed to pay for”, she said.
Corruption was an overarching theme that impeded the process of development within Uganda. Throughout the process of creating my business, she said that she had encountered numerous points where individuals and organizations were more interested in their own personal unlawful enrichment rather than performing their role in support of economic growth within the nation. Rather than making the path clear, they merely made it much more difficult.
Lastly, finding the appropriate workforce was also a challenging.
She said that our youth in Uganda were not being trained up to the standard necessary for professional excellence in many aspects. It was imperative that we fixed this as a community in order to improve our businesses, which fully relied on those employed.
She told the audience that those in the diaspora had the ability and responsibility to both create and introduce systems in Uganda that did not currently exist or were simply broken down. Through this, the people would greatly benefit. It didn’t matter what industry one was in, as most, if not all sectors, there is a need of improvement. However, this was a group effort.
“We must be devoted as a community to investing in our home, with the goal of strengthening our economy for the future. I ask you all to grow this community by encouraging your diaspora peers to also consider investing”, she retaliated.
It was also important to expose the children in the diaspora to their native country and the possibilities and opportunities available to them early enough in order to foster the development of a personal connection and commitment to home. She said that with her husband George they had a 20-year-old son Tendo whom they had “exposed to Uganda since he was a young boy. He has the country at heart. He has studied in the US all his life, but this Fall, he will be here at University College London for a semester doing research on the political instability of Uganda during the 1960s immediately following independence”, she said
Lastly, she said that it was important to note that this process was neither easy nor quick. One needed to invest with a great amount of patience in the process, yet determination to reach one’s goals. With the two, one was destined for success in helping create the change we would all like to see in Uganda. She thanked the audience.