"He's a national hero," said newspapers in Uganda. The whole country was shocked when Doctor Mathew Lukwiya died of Ebola fever in December 2000. Radio stations in Uganda played Elton John's song 'Candle in the Wind' to remember him by.
Mathew Lukwiya was a man who did not choose the easy way and follow peer pressure. In October 2000, Dr Lukwiya saw people arriving at Lacor Hospital in Gulu with a strange new disease. His tests soon showed that this was the terrible Ebola fever, which spreads from person to person very quickly and easily. Dr Lukwiya led the hospital team in fighting the fever. However, when some nursing staff also caught the illness, many nurses left the hospital, refusing to work. They were afraid they too would catch the fever and die.
Dr Lukwiya and some others stayed on — very overworked. He caught Ebola when he was caring for a nurse with the illness, and quickly died.
Many patients recovered from Ebola
Ebola Fever is a rare illness that causes bleeding, sickness and high temperature. When the fever started at Gulu, Northern Uganda, in 2000, 173 people died. Happily, even more recovered from the illness.
Josephine Apoko (aged 40, a traditional birth attendant) was cared for in the Gulu Hospital for three weeks. "For the first two weeks, I could not even sit up. I hardly knew who people were, not even by their voices. I lost my sense of taste."
But after three weeks, she could go home with a certificate saying that she was free of Ebola fever, because of the care given by Dr Lukwiya and his team. After two months, the fever stopped spreading and many people got better. "He probably saved thousands of lives," said the New York Times.
Why was Dr Lukwiya different?
Mathew Lukwiya was a follower of Jesus. Because God was his friend and guide, he did not put money and comfort first. He had been a clever medical student who had studied at Liverpool Institute of Tropical Hygiene (England) and Makerere Institute of Public Health (Uganda). With his qualifications he could have chosen a well-paid job in America, Europe, or South Africa. Many African doctors do this. Mathew was offered the job of medical teacher in England. Instead of taking this work, he went back to Gulu where he was born. It is one of the poorest places in the country — an area troubled by rebels who rape many girls and steal the boys to become rebel soldiers.
In Gulu, Mathew married a woman called Margaret and they had five children. He also did very important medical studies into HIV/AIDS at the hospital, which have helped Africa in the fight against AIDS. "Dr Lukwiya was an example to all medical workers," said Professor Francis Omaswa. "His decision to remain in Lacor, when he could have worked and lived in prosperity in Europe, America or anywhere else in the world, is a wonderful example."
Kidnap by rebels
Something else happened to him in Gulu which tells us more about the man. In 1989, 30 rebel soldiers of the so-called 'Lord's Liberation Army' broke down the hospital gate and said they would kidnap a group of Italian nurses. "If you want to take the sisters, take me instead," Mathew insisted.
They kept him as a prisoner for a week. He said later: "They were very rough, and we thought they were going to kill us."
Mathew believed in Jesus the Messiah. We can see that Mathew's life is a picture that shows us more about Jesus:
● Jesus chose to leave his good life in heaven and be born as a baby in a poor family.
● Jesus suffered many things and finally died a death that he did not deserve.
● Just as Mathew offered his life in the place of the nurses, Jesus also offers his life in our place, so that we can go free.