Medical Student hit by rare illness

Tuesday February 10 2015

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied

Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences student Bernard Augustino is put on an ambulance yesterday for the trip to Julius Nyerere International Airport from where he was flown to Nairobi for treatment after developing a rare medical condition. PHOTO | SYRIACUS BUGUZI      

By Dr Syriacus Buguzi, The Citizen Correspondent

Dar es Salaam. A final-year medical student at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) was flown to Kenya for treatment yesterday after he was diagnosed with a rare medical condition last week.

Mr Bernard Augustino, 24, suddenly fell ill and was unable to move his legs for two days. He was then rushed to the emergency unit at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) after his condition had worsened and he could no longer move his arms.

He was subjected to a battery of tests and doctors discovered that the fifth-year student had developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)—a rare condition known to affect one in every 100,000 people. The cost of treating the illness was estimated to be Sh26 million.

He was flown to Nairobi and admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital.

Before the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare intervened, doctors, nurses and students from Muhas were raising funds for his treatment as news of the rare attack continued to spread in the Muhas fraternity. According to Prof William Matuja, an expert in neurology at Muhas, the student needed to be treated urgently with medication that was not available in Tanzania.

He told The Citizen that 60 per cent of people who suffer from the condition can recover spontaneously, but others require urgent attention.

“A small proportion (of patients) need urgent medication, especially those whose condition progresses beyond four weeks, effecting the nerves involved in breathing,” he said.

Studies on Guillain-Barre Syndrome show that the disease kills more people who develop it in Tanzania than elsewhere.

One study done 30 years ago and published in the PubMed Journal, titled “Guillain-Barré syndrome in northern Tanzania: a comparison of epidemiological and clinical findings with western Norway” showed that mortality was 15.3 per cent of the victims in Tanzania compared to Norway where it was only 1.8 per cent.

Prof Matuja said other studies done in Tanzania show the disease has the same prevalence like anywhere else in the world and has similar symptoms and signs but noted that in Tanzania, it mainly afflicted young children and adolescents.

The ailing medical student was yesterday flown to Nairobi where he is receiving treatment at the Aga Khan University Hospital.

In an interview with The Citizen yesterday, the Muhas Vice Chancellor, Prof Ephatha Kaaya, said the student is already receiving treatment and ‘’he is in stable condition.’’

Prof Kaaya was optimistic that the sick medical student would recover well, saying: ‘’Most people recover spontaneously although some may be left with variable disabilities depending on the severity of the initial attack.”