With an HIV infection rate of around 7.2%, Uganda has a particular problem with the serious effects of fungal infection which takes hold in vulnerable people. However, the branch of medicine which deals with these infections, medical mycology, is under-resourced with a lack of specialist doctors and trained laboratory staff.
But now, Ugandan doctor Felix Bongomin is set to change all that using the skills he’s gained on a funded master’s course at The University of Manchester.
Inspired by lectures given in his home country by visiting University of Manchester professor and fungal infection expert Professor David Denning, Felix applied for an Equity and Merit Scholarship. This programme, unique to Manchester, covers the fees and expenses of exceptional students from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania who have a desire and a plan to benefit their home countries.
In Felix’s case that led him to study an MSc in Medical Mycology to learn the skills that he can pass on to students and medics and use to help his patients.
“As a medical intern, I found that fungal infections were among the trickiest cases on the wards," He says. "Due to a lack of specialist medical mycologists to consult, and the laboratories, which are ill-equipped for diagnosis, there is often recurrence of infections and a lack of knowledge of the resistance patterns of anti-fungal agents.”
He intends to continue working with patients and has big plans for the establishment of the discipline in the country. “Being a mycologist means I’ll be an important human resource for Uganda. I plan to establish a research institute which will be responsible for setting up good-quality fungal diagnostic and treatment services countrywide.”
Getting to this stage would not have been possible for Felix in Uganda, as the course he wanted to study doesn’t yet exist there. He was also unable to fund study abroad so the Equity and Merit Scholarship in Manchester has given him the opportunity to work with specialists and learn unique skills.
Professor Denning said: “When I visited Gulu University in 2012 to set up a research project into the fungal complications of TB, I didn’t imagine that my talk to the students and young doctors there would bring such a talented young physician to Manchester in my favourite subject. Felix has not only concluded his master’s, but his project will be published and, crucially, fill a gap in our knowledge of subtle immunodeficiency.”
Felix believes the benefits of his learning will resonate far beyond his own career – helping the medical professionals of the future too. He said: “This scholarship will allow me to become a lecturer at my university and so my students and so many other people will benefit from my studies.”
Felix’s story is the third in a series of four videos and articles to mark the tenth anniversary of the Equity and Merit Scholarship programme at Manchester. The scholarships are jointly funded by the University and its donors. The University covers the tuition fee in full and the generosity of donors covers students’ living costs, flights to the UK and visas.
Since it began, a total of 203 scholarships have been awarded to exceptional individuals who have demonstrated both academic excellence and a commitment to the economic or social development of their home communities.