When he was in his teens, Gideon Emorut began suffering from chronic migraines. The nearest hospital in his hometown of Kampala, Uganda, was so overcrowded and understaffed—the region where he’s from has one doctor for roughly every 46,000 residents—that it took a month before Emorut was able to see a medical professional. He was eventually diagnosed with an advanced and potentially fatal case of cerebral malaria.
That experience—and his frustrations with lack of access to medical care in Uganda—led Emorut to a career as a physician. After completing his studies at Uganda’s Makerere University in 2009, he conducted a research project with the World Health Organization, researching the state of Uganda’s healthcare system in rural and marginalized regions of the country. In September 2011, he put what he had learned into practice by founding GEEL Medical Services.
“Quality healthcare should be everyone’s right,” Emorut says. “But when you dig down, you see that’s far from the case.”
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To many westerners, GEEL (the name comes from Gideon and his wife’s initials) would seem like a typical hospital. But for the people of Tororo, it has been transformative. In a region where the medical options are either sporadically open and chronically understaffed government hospitals or expensive private facilities, GEEL is open 24 hours a day with prices most can afford.
The hospital’s 30-person staff offers typical medical services like emergency care, surgery, pharmacy services, and prenatal and maternity care—this in a region where one in 16 women dies due to complications from childbirth (versus one in 4,000 in the West). They also provide outreach and educational programs about sanitation and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Emorut has been able to charge lower prices by striking partnerships with various government hospitals, Uganda’s Infectious Disease Institute, and other organizations. These government-funded centers send any patients they can to GEEL and pay above GEEL’s normal asking price for services. That, in turn, allows GEEL to keep its fees low.
In the three years since its founding, GEEL has transitioned from three two-room clinics to a single 15-room hospital and has served more than 50,000 patients. The move from small clinics to a centralized hospital last year did set things back in terms of geographic distribution, but the tradeoff was that it enabled GEEL to centralize staff and resources to provide a wider range of services around the clock. According to Emorut, every month, the hospital saves the lives of more than 500 people who would otherwise die.
Emorut is currently trying to raise $1.4 million to build a larger facility, as GEEL rents its current space and frequently has to outsource space for surgeries, and to continue expanding the services his hospital can provide as well as replicate the GEEL model in other regions of East Africa.
“In the healthcare sector in Africa, and in Uganda particularly, there is a belief that patients will have to wait for the doctors,” Emorut says. “But we want our doctors waiting to see patients. Our patients are our bosses, and when the boss comes in, you take care of it.”