February 22, 2017
NAKAWA, UGANDA — The men and women who rush to Care Point Centre carry their health burdens to this clinic day in, day out. Their sessions always begin with about 40 minutes of exercises, then there is time on a massage machine.
“I have a stiff neck,” one says.
“Backache,” notes another.
“My husband had a stroke,” a woman explains as she assists a man in a wheelchair.
Care Point Centre, also known as CERAGEM Massage Center, opened seven years ago. It’s one of two jointly managed clinics in the country that offers CERAGEM therapy, a type of massage administered by a special machine created in South Korea. Care Point Centre, a franchise of the CERAGEM brand, serves 25 people every 40 minutes with the goal of relieving and healing chronic conditions.
“People use our products to heal naturally,” says Ronnie Keronga, a health consultant at Care Point Centre.
The notion that chronic pain can be treated via therapies like the ones offered at CERAGEM is a new one in Uganda. Even traditional health practitioners note their inability to help people overcome old injuries or conditions.
“I deal with newly acquired accidents,” says Maria Sebutemba, a local bone massager. “If a patient comes with a complaint that happened [a] long time ago, like after a month, I am not able to address such an ailment.”
CERAGEM’s therapy is fundamentally different from other options offered in the area, says Desire Mercy Bashasha, a principal orthopedic officer at Mulago Hospital, a large facility in the capital, Kampala.
“We only use machines to relax the muscles. We use metal to fix bones, [but] we don’t massage the bones,” he says.
It’s common for people here to resign themselves to living with chronic pain. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report found that even opioid pain drugs are often unavailable in poor areas. There are very few physiotherapists and occupational therapists in Uganda, according to UNICEF.
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda
The popularity of CERAGEM machines could indicate a shift in the awareness ordinary Ugandans have regarding their options to treat pain and disability.
Alternative therapies like the ones at Care Point Centre could offer people with certain chronic pain and illnesses another way to pursue healing, says Joseph Turyabahika, a consultant surgeon at Rubaga Hospital, which is formally known as Uganda Martyrs’ Hospital-Lubaga. People with diseases such as diabetes and cancer need to strictly adhere to conventional medical treatments, he cautions, but he notes that CERAGEM therapy can at least help them relax.
Agnes Biira, 26, brings her baby, Michelle, to Care Point Centre. When Michelle was born in April 2015, she pushed her head out but then pulled it back inside the birth canal, Biira says.
“She lost her original will to come out on her own until she had to be aided with instruments,” Biira says. “She started acting and looking funny.”
Michelle’s neck often went soft, Biira says, and her head wouldn’t sit straight. Biira first took her to Mbale Cure Hospital, where many disabled children are treated, but she was told that the baby had a weak spine and brain damage. Staff there advised Biira to take Michelle to CERAGEM.
“Within six months, Michelle opens her little hands to feel mine, she responds to my lullabies, she smiles, she responds to bright colors, she knows me and she looks for breast,” Biira says. “She can now cry and laugh.”
Adults report similar healing of their own injuries. Ali Kilyowa, a mechanic, says he heard a cracking noise in his back while he lifted heavy machinery. A disc in his spine moved, he says, and the injury caused him serious pain. He was advised to have back surgery, but instead he went to CERAGEM.
“The staff comforted me, and after one month I could afford to stand on my legs unassisted,” he says. “Now I am able to drive. I still have a remote pain in my pelvis bone, but it will go.”
Care Point Centre offers the therapy free of charge, says Jerry Rajwayi Ogola, the country director for all CERAGEM operations in Uganda.
The company’s business model is built on selling CERAGEM machines for people who want them in their homes or businesses, says Jonah Amayo, the Care Point Centre manager. The center sells about 19 machines each year, which cost between $1,275 and $3,800, depending on the model, he says.
Gabriel Andama suffered a stroke in February 2016, and he now uses a wheelchair. His wife, Suzan Andama, says CERAGEM has made a huge difference since he started coming in the fall.
“His formerly lifeless legs can now twitch, and he can step down,” she says.
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda, translated some interviews from Luganda.