Why is government dragging its feet on his work?
When one is recommended to see David Ssenfuka, one would be forgiven for overlooking him and looking for a more imposing, burly figure.
Ssenfuka is of average height and size with a dark complexion. He loves wearing jeans and white shirts, neatly tucked in even on a weekend. In place of a tie, a wooden rosary hangs around his neck and completes his look with Converse shoes.
Such a contrast to many of his suited, bespectacled and big-car-driving clients that flock to him daily, hoping he fixes their diabetes problems. Ministers, members of parliament, permanent secretaries, heads of missions, military generals – the who-is-who in this town – go to his small Leonia-NNN Medical Research and Diagnostic Centre Limited, at Munaku near Kasubi Royal Tombs.
When you look at the clinic’s parking lot, you will see fuel guzzlers parked with their owners waiting in queues to see the man whose formal education does not go beyond primary seven; still, many call him doctor. If ‘doctor’ means one who treats patients, then they are not entirely wrong.
So, how can a P7 dropout treat and heal diseases that are still baffling celebrated professors? The diseases Ssenfuka is sought after for are cancer and diabetes. Of late, these non-communicable diseases have been on the rise, affecting all classes of communities.
When I recently visited Ssenfuka’s clinic and found some of our society’s crème de la crème in queue, that was validation for the kind of treatment he gives.
WHO IS SSENFUKA?
Born 37 years ago to Rosemary Nassuuna and Remegio Jjingo of Budda in Kibinge sub-county in Bukomansimbi district, Ssenfuka went to Kyakatebe primary school where he completed his P7, before his grandmother ran out of school fees.
His parents divorced when he was nine months old and Nassuuna got a job as a maid in Entebbe, which is how the nine-month-old baby Ssenfuka ended up with his maternal grandparents, Leonia Nakiwala Nnalongo Namuganga and Lawrence Muwanga.
On top of Nnalongo being a farmer, she also used to give herbal solutions to people with medical problems.
“She would go to the bush, get herbs, pound them and give them to people to drink. They would actually heal,” Ssenfuka told The Observer.
Nnalongo and Ssenfuka were so close that wherever she went, he went too – including looking for the herbs. In the process, Ssenfuka also learnt so much about the herbs that Nnalongo dispensed.
Ssenfuka remembers his grandmother mostly treated pregnant women with complications, those who wanted to stop having children by C-section, and she also treated people with uncontrolled appetite for food, children who wet beds, those who snored and those with wounds that had refused to heal, among other ailments.
At around the age of 15 years, Ssenfuka left Budda to try his luck in Kampala. A friend had promised to help him get a job as a porter at a construction site. But he kept in touch with his grandmother and regularly visited.
Unfortunately, in 1998, the grandmother suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed until her death in 2007. The irony was not lost on Ssenfuka that while she used to treat people for hypertension – responsible for many strokes – she was a victim herself.
“I felt like a part of me died with her,” Ssenfuka said. He relocated to Dubai that same year with his wife and daughter, where he started a small business selling perfumes. His wife still carries on with the business.
DISCOVERING DIABETES TREATMENT
While in Dubai, Ssenfuka struck a relationship with a Pakistani, Ibrahim Mustapha. They would go for lunch to a restaurant 15 minutes’ drive away. But less than an hour after lunch, Mustapha would complain he was hungry again. If he did not eat immediately, he would start to sweat and shake. This was abnormal to Ssenfuka, but he remembered Nnalongo used to treat people with such symptoms.
“He told me he was diabetic; actually he used to take insulin. I told him I didn’t know about his diabetes, but what I knew there was medicine for constant hunger,” Ssenfuka recalled.
Ssenfuka told Mustapha that if he accepted to travel to Uganda, he would treat the ‘gluttony’. He could not risk taking the herbs to Dubai, lest he got arrested for trafficking narcotics.
Anyone who has suffered a chronic illness will tell you they will go to all lengths to find a permanent fix. Mustapha was no exception. He took a gamble and came to Uganda with Ssenfuka. By this time, his diabetes was so bad that the doctor in Dubai had told him he was going to amputate his leg or else he risked contracting cancer.
“After taking the herbal medicine I gave him for seven days, he told me his eyesight was improving. Then he asked me whether my medicine had any positive effect on diabetic people. I told him I didn’t know; all I knew was it reduced uncontrolled appetite for food. After 11 days, he told me his sugar levels had dramatically come down and that he had reduced on the amount of insulin he was taking,” Ssenfuka said.
Mustapha also no longer felt the incessant hunger that used to drive him to eat all the time. He also no longer got the sweating and shakes that came with hunger.
Additionally, the number of times he woke up to urinate at night had gone down from six to two. After 25 days of taking the medicine, Mustapha told Ssenfuka he was no longer taking insulin because his sugar levels had been consistently normal.
“The final act was that even the wound on his foot started to heal,” Ssenfuka said of his first accidental ‘guinea pig’.
After two months in Uganda, Mustapha went back to Dubai, leaving his friend in Kampala. But every time he called, he would say: “How are you the guy with a diabetes cure yet you don’t know.?”
Mustapha said he had moved to different hospitals in Dubai and all of them told him he was no longer diabetic. Ssenfuka, puzzled but excited about this development, shared this information with a friend called Lawrence Mukiibi, who was a lab technician.
“It’s him who told me that one of the signs of diabetes is having uncontrolled appetite. He said if your grandmother was giving medicine for gluttony, maybe she was treating diabetes without knowing. He then gave me some diabetic people who I gave the medicine to and they also reported the same things Ibrahim reported,” Ssenfuka said.
It was after these trials that Mukiibi advised that they take the drug to the government-owned Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute to see whether it had medicinal components.
“We didn’t tell them that it was medicine for diabetes but we wanted to know whether it had chemicals that can treat human beings. After a month and a half, they called us to give us the report that said the medicine had components that could treat diabetes and other diseases.”
According to a report signed by Moses Solomon Agwaya and Richard Eragu both research officers in charge of chemistry, the medicine they called SD 2018, was found to possess phytochemical compounds: saponins, alkaloids, reducing compounds anthracenosides coumarins flavanosides and steroid glycosides.
“These groups of compounds are known to have medicinal properties,” the report reads in part.
It then recommended the need to carry out preclinical pharmacological studies to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the formula in humans. With this report, Ssenfuka submitted another sample to the same institute but this time for
a pharmacological analysis.
An animal trial was done and in a report signed on September 18, 2018 by Dr Grace Nambatya Kyeyune the director of the institute, it concluded that the medicine was not only effective in dealing with diabetes, but was curative.
“The results of the present study indicate that SD 2018 exhibit antihyperlidemic properties which may alleviate damage to the heart arising from diabetes since the result of this study show that SD 2018 controls hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, which alleviates cardiac dysfunction associated with aloxan induced diabetes.
Thus SD 2018 might be useful in prevention or delay of the progress of diabetic cardiomyopathy,” the report said.
It added that SD 2018 also exhibited hepatoprotective effects by significantly restoring normal serum levels of alkaline phosphates Alanine aminotransferase and Asparate aminotransferase and histopathological changes in the liver.
“Furthermore, SD 2018 treatment also alleviated nephropathy associated with diabetic conditions by significantly restoring normal serum level of urea, creatinine and histopathological changes in the kidney. Overall, the present study demonstrated the effects of SD 2018 to be curative,” the report concluded.
With this second report, Ssenfuka was advised to seek government permission to carry out human trials. And this is where the drama started. But as he was moving from office to office seeking permission to start human trials as well as financial assistance from government, those he had given the medicine to and were cured started referring others to him.
Ssenfuka realized he had more work to do in Uganda than selling perfumes in Dubai. He went and bid farewell to his family that still wanted to stay in Dubai, and relocated to Uganda. He occasionally visits the family in Dubai.
FINDING BOOKS AGAIN
After his return, he enrolled at Makerere School of Psychology for adult education to try and improve his literacy and English, in order to engage in actual research about diabetes.
In the course of his work, he got diabetic patients who were also suffering from cancer. As he gave them medicine to reduce bodily swelling, which also Nnalongo used to treat, those he gave it to reported an increase in the speed at which cancer cells were disappearing to the puzzlement of doctors at Uganda Cancer Institute.
Ssenfuka had asked his patients not to disclose to doctors that they were also using herbal medicine, because this was discouraged at the institute.
With their reports, however, Ssenfuka sought to subject the cancer herbs to the same analysis like the ones for diabetes. However, he was only able to do the test of whether the medicine was not harmful to humans. He was told a pharmacological analysis, could only be done in South Africa and he could not afford the costs required.
LOOKING FOR FUNDING
Failing to secure funding locally, Ssenfuka went back to Dubai and asked their government to fund his research in the treatment of cancer.
“They said it was impossible for me to have the medicine that has eluded the world. They asked me to bring 12 diabetics and 12 cancer patients for them to check and confirm that indeed they are sick. Thereafter, I was to bring them back to Uganda and give them the medicine, then fly them back to Dubai to be checked again. If they found them to be negative, they would give me all the money I needed to do the research,” Ssenfuka said.
He came back to Uganda and met a friend working at Mulago hospital, who promised to give him patients on palliative care. However, the condition was: Ssenfuka would first treat them and if they improved, he would get him those to take to Dubai for tests.
“He gave me 17 patients whom I brought to Kimera Clinic to check their cancer and the stage at which it was. The clinic invited Dr Moses Mpairwe, an oncologist surgeon at Mulago, to get the samples for analysis,” Ssenfuka said.
After two months of Ssenfuka’s treatment, another analysis was done and Mpairwe discovered many whose cancers had progressed to stage four had significantly improved. Mpairwe asked Kimera Clinic to put him in touch with Ssenfuka.
When they met, he asked him about his level of education and what he knew about medicine.
“He resolved to help me do the research until this medicine is developed into a drug, because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”
Since then, Mpairwe carries out comprehensive tests on patients before they are enrolled on Ssenfuka’s medicine. These tests are done at government institutions including the Cancer Institute and Heart Institute, among others. The tests are done before, during and after enrollment on treatment.
As they enroll you, they keep you on the diabetes medicine you have been taking and knock it out progressively. Mpairwe said for as long has he still has breath, he will work to ensure that Ssenfuka’s medicine is developed, because it works.
He told The Observer that when he read the technical report about SD 2018, even the little doubt he had dissipated.
“If this report was made by our fellow medics who tested this drug by scientific mechanisms and said it is curative, what more do you need? I think we need to help this man to see that this drug gets to be developed and used in a scientific manner. The report shows that it restores the functioning of the liver, the heart, the kidney and the pancreas,” Mpairwe said.
He said even if the medicine were not curative, the mere fact that it helps in rebuilding the body is good enough.
“You give medicine to the man, the glucose normalizes – he even stops taking drugs or insulin. Whoever says that I’m running mad by working with this man, I have no problem with them. Let me run mad but at some point if this drug is approved, they will be the one using and prescribing it. If something is said to be having an effect on something, let’s take a step and find out what exactly is behind it instead of sabotaging it,” Mpairwe said.
SLOW GOVERNMENT PROGRESS
With more than 1,500 people treated so far and with testimonies that they were healed, government is moving slowly in granting Ssenfuka a green light do human trials.
In May 2020, now faced with the Covid-19 pandemic which Ssenfuka’s medicine for sinuses proved to be effective in fighting, he dragged the government to court to force it to allow him do tests and also support him.
Numerous letters from Ssenfuka and from prominent Ugandans some of whom have used the medicine and confirm its efficacy (including former judge John Baptist Katutsi and Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire) to the ministry of Health have gone unanswered.
In response to the court case, government asked for an out-of-court settlement committing to help Ssenfuka in his endeavours.
“We met with the former minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Elioda Tumwesigye thrice and he took us through the process of asking for government support in these scientific innovations. We have filed our papers and it’s now three months and we are still waiting for a response,” Ssenfuka said.
THREATS TO LIFE
Ssenfuka told The Observer he has been warned many times that his project is capable of causing him problems. In the past, he has also received calls from anonymous people who threaten to kill him if he does not stop his research on cancer and diabetes.
In a country known to frustrate its own in favour of pharmaceutical giants that financially benefit from huge sick populations, Ssenfuka cannot take these threats lightly.
So, with that prevailing threat, has he passed on the knowledge to another person like his grandmother did?
“Jjajja used not to pick medicine in the morning or after it had rained. She used to tell me that when you do that, the medicine does not work. But when she was about to die, she told me that if you pick medicine in the morning or after it has rained, people will track your footsteps and know which medicine you have given them. That was her way of protecting her patent, but now we have a known way of patenting innovation. What I’m telling government is for us to become partners and get a patent. For now, I have not told anyone about the medicine but at least I have written the formula somewhere although I have not shared it with anyone yet,” Ssenfuka said.
Currently, he gives medicine to about 300 diabetics and 80 cancer patients every day. He has since procured machines that crash the medicine and also boil the water.
“What gives me satisfaction is to see people come here dying, but after two months leave very happy after I have healed them. They bring me chicken, rosaries and many things to thank me. I have more than 800 invitations to go and visit some of these people but I have failed to get the time to do so,” Ssenfuka said.
In the coming weeks, we shall bring you some of the most fascinating testimonies of people who have used Ssenfuka’s medicine.