Uganda Health Crusader Matthew Lukwiya, 43, Dies of Virus

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Uganda Health Crusader Matthew Lukwiya, 43, Dies of Virus

GULU, Uganda, DEC. 6, 2000 ( dying of the Ebola virus, Dr. Matthew Lukwiya said two things: “Lord, I offer you my life. I pray that it will be the last.”

The 43-year-old physician, who was the first to raise the alarm about the incurable hemorrhagic fever in his native country, died Tuesday morning. The Ebola death toll now stands at 156, including 22 health workers, a government official said.

Lukwiya was “a Protestant who breathed the Catholic spirit of Lucille Corti,” Father Cosimo De Iaco told the Italian newspaper Avvenire from this northern village. Corti was a doctor who died in Gulu of AIDS, infected while working with patients.

Lukwiya ran St. Mary´s Hospital in Lacor in this northern town. Ugandan and international officials credited Lukwiya with a major role in largely limiting the outbreak of Ebola to Gulu, where it emerged, and two other areas, The Washington Post reported.

Born in the village of Pagimo, he had excelled in his medical studies. He held three master´s degrees, including one from the London Institute of Tropical Medicine. He was invited to stay in Great Britain as a university professor, but he declined the offer, preferring to return to his people.

This doctor was the first to realize two months ago that the Ebola virus was causing a mysterious series of deaths. In the beginning, no one believed him. Yet, he started a relief effort at the Lacor missionary hospital.

“He took great care of all his patients, and not only from the medical point of view,” said Father De Iaco, a Combonian missionary. “He went to each patient and cared for him personally. He did not treat them as clinical cases but as human persons. He was also interested in their family problems. … His greatest task was to motivate and organize the nurses. He gave them much encouragement to be involved in such a dangerous area, plagued by Ebola.”

Since the outbreak, a dozen nurses have died in hospitals in Lacor and nearby Gulu.

“During Dr. Lukwiya´s funeral, I heard the people cry: ´Who will save us from Ebola, now that he has died?´” the missionary added. “He was seen as a hope because, thanks to his efforts and intelligence, the virus´ spread has been contained.”

Before becoming unconscious, Lukwiya prayed with his wife and was heard to say: “Lord, you who have made miracles, can do great things to deliver us. You can save us. We place ourselves in your hands. May your will be done.”

“It is a most grave loss,” Father De Iaco concluded. “Now, in order to honor his sacrifice, the battle must go forward.”

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