The Chinese multinational making millions out of vulnerable Ugandans

In the west, Tiens markets its products as food supplements and ‘wellness equipment’. In Uganda, they are sold as treatments for everything from HIV to cancer. James Wan reports from Kampala for Think Africa Press

Wasswa Zziwa Edrisa (middle ) distributes Tiens products in the rural Ugandan town of Iganga. Photograph: James Wan

On the corner of a bumpy, red-soil road in the rural town of Iganga in eastern Uganda, there lies a small store. A handful of people mill around the entrance in the glaring sun, waiting for their turn to enter. They are the main source of activity on this placid street, but their patient presence barely betrays the hubbub within.

Inside, almost a dozen people sit crammed on makeshift benches around two edges of the stifling room. Most of the remaining space is taken up by a shop counter, behind which are shelves piled high with vibrantly coloured health products covered in Chinese characters.

A couple of customers compete with a baby wailing as they read out lists of products to the shop attendants who pick them off the shelves. Every now and then, the door in the corner opens. Someone steps out, and the person sitting closest steps in.

Beyond that doorway is an even smaller room, windowless and illuminated by a single light. As I peer in, three people are undergoing diagnostic tests; a woman is standing on a machine that hums loudly as it vibrates, and a few more patients are waiting slumped along the wall.

Wasswa Zziwa Edrisa − or “Doctor Wasswa” as he is known here − stands in the centre wearing a fresh, chequered shirt on his back and an unwavering grin on his face.

“I will show you how we help so many people,” he says, beaming. “Let me show you the machines.”

‘Organ scanners’

“This is one of the scanners,” he explains, pointing to a piece of kit that looks a bit like a 1970s radio. “It shows everything. We can see if you have diabetes, kidney deficiencies, liver problems, eye problems. Everything.”

Wasswa explains that the test works using a traditional Chinese understanding of the body whereby different points of the hand relate to different internal organs. We watch as an attendant prods a patient’s left palm with a metal tip, making a little meter light up. When the light goes green, he explains, it means that part of the body is fine, but if it goes orange it indicates a problem.

Next, Wasswa points me to the corner where a woman is standing on a small machine and holding onto a pair of handlebars, to which she is harnessed. Her whole body blurs in the dim light as the platform beneath her vibrates rapidly, its droning buzz filling the room.

Similar machines can be found in many gyms these days and are meant to help tone muscle, but the uses Wasswa presents are quite different.

“This is a blood circulation massager,” he announces. “You see how she sweats. It opens the vessels and deals with paralysis. It helps people with stroke.”

A woman stands on a machine Wasswa claims ‘deals with paralysis’. Photograph: James Wan

 

Wasswa then shows me another diagnostics machine, this one connected to a laptop. As the patient holds on to an appliance plugged into the computer, pictures of different organs flash up on the screen for a few seconds each as a dial next to it oscillates erratically. After a minute, a one-page document pops up, detailing how well his organs are functioning.

In the airless room, Wasswa runs through a few more devices − a face pain remover, a blood pressure reducer, a necklace that removes radiation − before squeezing past bodies and chairs to get back to the first patient we met. By now his diagnostic test is complete. The patient tells me that he came to the store because of some mild pain around his mouth. Wasswa breaks the news that there are more serious things about which he ought to be concerned.

“He has a problem with his spleen,” says Wasswa. “At times, he gets constipation and some swelling in the legs and arms. There is also some paralysis in the legs. He gets headaches. At times he feels dizziness. His brain arteries need to be detoxified. He has kidney deficiencies. He has bad chest pain. He has high cholesterol. He has poor circulation. And he has problems with his stomach.”

The man looks young and healthy. Wasswa is not perturbed.

“He needs to improve his circulation by using our machines and he will need to take our products. If he uses them, he will be fine,” he says.

‘Radiation cure’

Back in the waiting-room-cum-pharmacy, Wasswa shows me some of these products. He picks goods off the shelves – capsules, toothpastes, body creams – and stacks them on the counter as he explains what they do.

“This takes away all the radiation in your body. This helps with diabetes. This treats ulcers. This is for slimming. This adds more white blood cells to your system. This is for people who are mentally disturbed,” he says.

“These medicines are good for everything,” he concludes finally, the pile of products on the counter now complete. “If you have cancer, we can help. If you have HIV, we can help. Even if you have a hernia or a tumour or appendicitis, you just take our products and they will disappear.”

Even if you have a hernia or a tumour or appendicitis, you just take our products and they will disappear

This small store in eastern Uganda employs a handful of staff and, according to Wasswa, receives dozens of people each day. Wasswa is also frequently heard on local radio advertising his services and has made quite a name for himself in the area.

Wasswa was previously a school teacher and says his parents were “peasants”, but now, in his 30s, he is anything but. These days, he drives a shiny four-wheel drive, wears sharp suits and travels around the world. All this makes him quite the exception in Iganga, but across Uganda this young man is by no means a solo pioneer and his store is by no means unique.

Source: The Guardian Read more

Advertisements