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In Uganda, Don’t Touch Anybody

The president of Uganda has banned physical contact now that Ebola has reached the capital, Kampala, for the first time.  Lord, have mercy. The news brings to mind one of the most incredibly moving stories of heroism I have ever read: Blaine Harden’s 2001 tale of Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, a devout Ugandan Pentecostal who gave his life to prevent the spread of Ebola in his country. Excerpt:

Unlike tens of thousands of African professionals who leave the continent for better pay and better lives abroad, Dr. Matthew apparently never even considered such a move. In letters he wrote from Liverpool to Dr. Corti at St. Mary’s, he said not to worry about the hospital’s future; he would be back. Even if he was to get another advanced degree, he vowed, he would come back and do his research at St. Mary’s. 

”Have you ever heard of a missionary temperament?” asked Dr. Brian Coulter, a senior lecturer at the Liverpool School who knew Dr. Matthew well and who visited him at St. Mary’s several times in the 1990’s. ”That is exactly what Matthew had. His aim in life was to minister to sick children and to run one of the few institutions that function efficiently in Uganda. That is what satisfied him, and that is what he wanted.”

While studying for his second master’s degree in Kampala, Dr. Matthew insisted that his children take education as seriously as he did. He read to his twin 9-year-old boys every night, Margaret said, and he pestered his son, Peter, 12, to work harder on math. For the first time in his life, he also had time to relax with his children, to follow British soccer on the BBC and to get a bit thicker around the middle.

All this came to an end, however, when the telephone rang and Dr. Matthew heard the words ”strange disease.” He left for the north at once, arriving at St. Mary’s Hospital in the early evening, in time to witness the death of a nursing student named Daniel Ayella. As the nurse died, the whites of his eyes turned red, and blood dribbled from his mouth. Dr. Matthew had never seen anything like it.


Epidemiologists who traveled to Gulu credit Dr. Matthew with helping to contain Ebola before it could spread. His insistence on immediately calling senior health officials in Kampala jump-started the government’s public-awareness campaign. He may have saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives.

… Father Odong, the vicar general of Gulu, said that he hoped his friend’s story will offer his fellow Africans a new definition of what it means to be a big man in Africa. ”It is not about getting rich and having power,” he said. ”We should tell everyone the story of Dr. Matthew.”

Read the whole thing. It will renew your faith in humanity. St. Matthew Lukwiya, pray for your people now.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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