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How a nurse injected baby with HIV blood

Clad in a kitengi dress, Rose Namubiru looks innocent, at least by looking at her ageing face.

The 65-year-old is a nurse at Victoria Medical Centre, along Lumumba avenue, in Kampala.

The hitherto little-known nurse has been in the news for the wrong reasons since Friday, after she allegedly drew her own HIV-infected blood and injected it into a two-year-old child, a patient at the clinic.

Now detained at Wandegeya police station, Namubiru’s conduct has raised eyebrows about safety in Uganda’s health facilities with the grim realisation now that some are harbingers of death as opposed to life.

“I’m still wondering why she did such a thing,” said the child’s father, who preferred anonymity to protect the victim. He also wonders whether Namubiru is on a deliberate mission to infect children with HIV/Aids or his child was a deliberate target.

The family’s ordeal started on Tuesday morning, January 7, 2014. The child was showing signs of tonsillitis, an inflammation of the tonsils, which is commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

The mother decided to take her sick child to Victoria Medical Centre, one of the health centres on the family’s health insurance scheme.

“We normally go there for medication, and we have a particular doctor who attends to us,” the father told us.

However, on the fateful day, the doctor in question was not on duty and it was around lunch time. It appears there were few health workers present; so, the medical facility assigned Nurse Rose Namubiru to handle the child. After dropping mother and child at Victoria Medical Centre, the father proceeded to his workplace.

Deadly injection

Following diagnosis, the nurse was supposed to administer an injection to the child. She got hold of a syringe, first pierced one of her fingers, drew out some blood, and then injected the baby. As she was administering the injection, the mother became suspicious seeing blood oozing from Namubiru’s finger while she was injecting her child.

The now alarmed mother shouted at the nurse to stop what she was doing to her child. She quickly reported what had transpired to the head nurse and another nurse was called in to complete the treatment as a formal complaint was made to the health centre authorities. The family now demanded to know Namubiru’s HIV status. The clinic asked her if she knew her HIV status and she said she didn’t.

“When the hospital took a HIV test on her [Namubiru], they broke the news that she was HIV-positive,” the child’s parents narrated.

Namubiru claimed she was discovering her status for the very first time. The child was also tested and found to be negative. The hospital administration immediately wrote a termination letter, but withheld it, insisting that they would formally terminate her services after the matter had been closed. She has worked there for four years, the police said.

As all this was going on, Namubiru was asked why she drew her own blood and injected it into the child. She replied that she was tired and lost her head in the process, before asking for forgiveness. One of the doctors at the clinic advised the parents to put the child on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), an early preventive treatment regime that can stop infection once taken immediately after exposure to HIV.

The child was subsequently transferred to another facility and put on PEP treatment for 30 days.

“They told us after 30 days, the child would be subjected to an HIV test. But that will not be conclusive, we are only waiting for three months when a conclusive test will be taken and then we shall be able to know whether our child got infected or not,” the child’s father narrated.

ARVs found

The police were immediately called in and Namubiru was picked up and detained at Wandegeya police station where the case was recorded. All this time, Namubiru maintained that she had not known she was HIV-positive. However, when she was told she would be detained at the station, she asked to be taken to her home to pick up a drug that she said she takes “at specific hours”.

When the police took her to her home off Entebbe road and searched it, they found several tins of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). She first denied that they belonged to her but later confessed that the drugs were hers. She added that she gets her ARVs from Nsambya hospital.

In her statement at the police station, Namubiru insisted that what had happened was accidental.

“The baby was crying and fighting, so I got pierced … I lost my head, I’m sorry, I just lost my head,” she said.

She claims that she didn’t target the child, since she doesn’t know its parents and was treating it for the first time.

Police secrets

On Friday, January 10, this writer visited Wandegeya police station to verify the story after a tip-off from a source. Inside the office of the O/C CIID, but unnoticed as a journalist and indeed uninvited, this writer sat quietly as the police officer and the child’s parents discussed the case.

It was now three days after the incident and the O/C CIID, a copy of the Penal Code Act in hand, confessed that the police were having trouble finding an appropriate charge for the accused nurse.

“I was looking at attempted murder, but it can’t stand,” she told the child’s parents.

Then the child’s mother, who said she had consulted a lawyer, proposed section 171 of the Penal Code Act, which provides for punishment for a negligent act likely to spread an infection or a disease. According to this section, any person who unlawfully or negligently commits this offence is liable to imprisonment for seven years upon conviction. This is the offence Namubiru is likely to be charged with this week.

During the meeting, it was also revealed that the clinic had been uncooperative and that the administrator had switched off all the known phone numbers. After the parents inquired about the nurse’s qualifications, the O/C CIID said detectives had asked for her practising certificate but she didn’t produce any. The police then attempted to get her academic qualifications from the clinic but it was said she didn’t have a staff file there. Indeed, the administrators said they didn’t know her qualifications.

The meeting also heard that the clinic was interested in getting the case resolved quickly before the media could get wind of it. “The health centre is worried that if the media get to know, they will lose patients,” the OC/CIID said.

Indeed, it later emerged that the police at Wandegeya had tried to hide the story from the media until CIID Director Grace Akullo intervened and ordered that Namubiru be paraded before the media. Akullo said the director of the clinic had gone into hiding.

HIV bill

As the child’s parents struggle to come to terms with what has happened to their child, praying that PEP treatment helps to prevent infection, it is now feared that Namubiru belongs to a racket of health workers that deliberately infect people with HIV/Aids.

However, as police struggled to find an appropriate charge to punish such an evil act, it became clearer that our laws are inadequate to cover such emerging but deadly crimes.

The HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Bill 2008, which seeks among others to criminalise the deliberate and intentional spread of HIV/Aids, has been a subject of intense debate over the last couple of years. Activists believe it violates human rights and might exacerbate rather than alleviate the HIV problem.

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ssekika@observer.ug

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