Catholic Nuns, Evangelical Doctor Partner With Jewish Entrepreneur to Save Lives
Catholic sister and OB-GYN specialist, Dr. Priscilla Busingye, has been awarded $500,000 from African Mission Healthcare. She plans to expand a local clinic and help thousands more people.
Days ago, Dr. Sister Priscilla Busingye, age 55, received word that her dream of a renovated medical clinic in rural Uganda may soon be realized.
African Mission Healthcare (AMH) has awarded Busingye, a certified OB-GYN physician, its Gerson L’Chaim Prize. It includes a $500,000 award to support her medical work.
“I am very excited about this,” stated Busingye in an interview via e-mail. “The prize is a good start to making our dream a reality. We will make this a center of excellence. Imagine a model hospital in this rural region of Uganda.”
Specifically, she expressed gratitude to AMH co-founder Mark Gerson and his wife Rabbi Erica Gerson. Devout Jewish believers, they have uniquely given millions of dollars towards Christian missions over the past decade.
“Doctors must do a lot of improvising. You become like a fire extinguisher, because most times it is only emergencies.” — Dr. Priscilla Busingye
“Dr. Priscilla exemplifies what it means to live a life of faith,” said Mark Gerson in a phone interview. “Physicians like her who live God’s will are genuinely sacred and holy people.”
Gerson, an executive at a top New York consulting firm, says his family considers return on investment in their philanthropy. “When you deploy charitable resources, you have to ask how your money can do the most good,” he said.
“Christian missionary doctors working in Africa deliver the highest possible return,” he added. “There’s no argument about that. We have all the data to back it up.”
Medical Mission Grounded in Shared Faith
In the mid-nineties, Gerson met Jon Fielder when the two were roommates while studying at Baylor University in Houston. As Fielder went on medical school, the two stayed in contact.
Compelled by his evangelical Christian faith, Fielder took a year off from school to serve as a missionary in India.
“My eyes were really opened to needs in the developing world,” said Fielder in a phone interview from Uganda. “When I returned to medical school, God convicted me to become a long-term medical missionary.”
He and Gerson began to collaborate on humanitarian work, despite their differences in beliefs.
They share roots in the biblical text, noted the Jewish entrepreneur. “All of the Torah is about saving lives and the sacredness of life,” said Gerson. “The Book of Deuteronomy says, ‘Choose life, in order that you may live.’ To save a life is by far the most important thing one can do.”
In 2010, the two co-founded African Mission Healthcare, with Fielder as CEO and Gerson as board chair. Since then, AMH has sponsored projects at 47 facilities in 18 African nations. Their work is most focused on eight nations in eastern Africa, including Kenya and Uganda.
Fielder and his team found that an order of Catholic nuns were running many rural health facilities. Soon, they established a relationship with the Banyatereza Sisters of Uganda.
“We found their clinics to be compassionate in health care and also extremely efficient,” said Fielder. “So we partnered with this order to send their sisters to train as doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians.”
Since then, 49 of the sisters have trained as health care workers. One Catholic nun has become a key ally as AMH has defined and deployed their strategy.
Improvising During Crises
Dr. Priscilla Busingye has practiced medicine in the rural area of Rwibale, Uganda since 2008.
“It’s very different from an urban setting,” said Busingye via e-mail. “Doctors must do a lot of improvising. You become like a fire extinguisher, because most times it is only emergencies. The advantage is the joy you bring to people who haven’t had access to specialist care.”
Earlier this year, AMH sponsored the first operating theater at her clinic. Now Busingye and her team have new capacity to assist pregnant women in distress. When needed, they can now perform C-section deliveries. “We work to restore women’s dignity and save lives,” she said.
In recent weeks, Uganda has recorded an uptick in COVID-related deaths. AMH leaders say their greatest concern is that many effective COVID treatments involve oxygen therapy. Only approximately 20% of health facilities across Africa have oxygen capacity (compressors, etc.)
“The oxygen that you need to save the life of someone with COVID-19, it’s enormous.” — Dr. Jon Fielder
“The level of oxygen that you need to save the life of someone with COVID-19, it’s enormous,” said Fielder. “Oxygen is one of the least available essential resources. Now we’ve started a major initiative to build oxygen capability in health facilities.”
Busingye noted the COVID-19 pandemic has increased difficulties in her area. “I find many women are sick at home,” she said. “Others are unable to sell their goods in the markets, and have no money. Their pain is my pain.”
Prize funding will be dedicated to a new addition to her clinic. “We are going to build a Maternal Center,” said Busingye. “It will improve care for women and children here, and across this region. Our vision is to use it to train and mentor many health care workers.”
Building Shalom That Lasts
Fielder, who graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has heard criticisms of their work over the years.
Once critics understand their close connection to African leaders, he said it changes the conversation. “No Westerner can come in to a nation for a couple of weeks and think you’re going to solve problems,” he said. “Only by listening to local voices will you arrive at solutions.
“We come alongside hospitals and ask, ‘How can we help you? What is it that you need to be successful?’”
To fulfill its mission, AMH focuses on long-terms efforts to build a strong health care system. This includes resourcing mission teaching clinics, as in Uganda.
Dr. Busingye’s praise is a testament to the value of their work. “Today, our rural underserved community is closer to the completion of a big dream,” she said. “We thank God for this prize and those in America supporting our work. And we pray for peace in our countries.”
For the leaders, it comes down to their mission.
“God has commanded us to love the stranger,” said Gerson. “The Torah tells us this 36 times — more than anything else, I believe. Saving the life of a stranger is the best way to love them.”
Learn more about African Mission Healthcare in the video below.