In 2009, 19-year-old American Renee Bach moved to Uganda to found Serving His Children, a faith-based nonprofit organization. Bach, who has no medical training or college degree, was sued earlier this year in the High Court of Uganda by the parents of two children who allegedly died in her care. She is also accused of causing the deaths of 105 Ugandan children by misrepresenting herself as a medical professional and denying her patients access to the local hospital system.
Her case calls into question the system of international medical charity and the role of Westerners in the medical systems of African countries.
Although Bach was formally sued in January of 2019, her case did not gain international media attention until this summer. In July, multiple news organizations including NPR, ABC, and The Root began reporting accounts by former patients and employees which paint a disturbing picture of Bach’s clinic in Jinja.
According to sources, she administered blood transfusions, oversaw sensitive feeding regimens for severely malnourished patients, inserted IV catheters, diagnosed conditions like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, and regularly wore a white coat and stethoscope.
In 2011, Bach wrote on the Serving His Children blog about a 9-month-old baby named Patricia. Writing in the first person, she recounted that “I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work… As I took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB [hemoglobin] count… I was attempting to diagnose the many problems that could potentially be at hand… After doing a search for blood around Jinja town, we found her type and it was a match! We started the transfusion…”
However, there were major complications which Bach glossed over in the blog post.
According to Jackie Kramlich, an American nurse who was volunteering at Serving His Children at the time, Bach called her into the room a few minutes later as the infant began wheezing. The wrong blood type had been administered. Bach told Kramlich that she wasn’t sure if it was an allergic reaction, because her Google search said that allergic reactions often came with a rash. Kramlich convinced Bach to take the baby to a local hospital, where the child recovered. Kramlich resigned from Serving His Children several months later, citing ethical concerns.
Bach’s story was brought to light by several Ugandan advocacy organizations. These include the Women’s Probono Initiative, a legal organization sponsoring the court case against her, and No White Saviors, a controversial online campaign against prideful “white saviorism” in missionary and charity work in African countries.
The court case against Bach alleges that, of the approximately 900 children with severe malnutrition who were treated at Serving His Children, 105 died at the clinic.
According to accusations by No White Saviors, many more children may have died within a few days of leaving the clinic, as the clinic kept no official death records and frequently discharged extremely ill patients.
Bach denies that she ever represented herself as a doctor or medical professional, and she says that the accounts from former staff accusing her of misconduct come from individuals with whom she had personal disagreements.
She left Uganda in 2015, amid growing questions from local health officials and “threats” from local people. Serving His Children agreed to partner with the Health Ministry of Uganda in further activities treating medically fragile patients.
Bach has retained U.S. legal counsel from David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty, who has referred to the social media advocacy campaign against her as “reputational terrorism.” Bach does not plan to return to Uganda to respond to the lawsuit in court. Serving His Children points out that their reported case fatality rate for severe malnutrition is in line with the rates at other health centers.
The Bagpipe spoke with Henry Hooks, a Covenant sophomore who spent his summer shadowing Dr. Timothy Ssemakula, a Ugandan physician working in a rural area outside Kampala. Reflecting on the Bach case, Hooks encouraged nuance between the prideful attitudes of some charity workers and the real medical needs that many people still have.
On the one hand, Hooks noted that, “As an American, it's easy to get in the mindset of, ‘I have all these resources. So anything that I do is going to be helpful no matter if it saves lives.’ …It’s just so prideful and ridiculous because there are doctors there, there are lots of resources for people to get real medical help… It was just really frustrating and bothered me a lot that she was assuming a role of, ‘I can do this, and it's not really that bad if anything happens, because they're gonna die anyway.’”
On the other hand, Hooks emphasized that real medical needs exist, and can be met: “[Bach] could have done a lot in the way of providing resources for people to get to a medical clinic. Like, if she wanted to run a nutrition center that's just feeding people, not doing any medical work, fantastic. That's such a good way for her to connect with people and be invested in their lives. And if somebody comes who's medically malnourished, then she could say, ‘Okay, we have couriers that can take you to the hospital in central Jinja, and they're going to take care of you there.’”
According to advocacy groups like No White Saviors, the Bach case shows a weakness in the attitudes and objectives of independent Western missionaries providing “aid” in African nations.
Reflecting on how to navigate this conversation, Hooks said, “Go with an attitude of, ‘I'm entering somebody else's country and all I want to do is learn from them and try to understand their culture better.’ Not trying to be a savior and feel good about myself. Because Christ went in humility, and we should go in humility.”