A white American missionary has been accused of posing as a doctor and running a fake medical facility in Africa where she cared for hundreds of children, many of whom did not survive her treatment.
Renee Bach, a native of Bedford, Va., has been back and forth between the U.S. and Uganda for more than a decade, eventually starting a nonprofit called “Serving His Children,” which focused on preventative care and treatment for children suffering from malnutrition. In a 2017 interview, Bach told WSLS that she started the charity in 2008 when she was 18, after a trip to the East African country. In 2010, she even began the process of adopting a Ugandan girl she met when the child was two weeks old.
But now, a group representing Ugandan parents has filed a lawsuit against Bach and her Christian organization, claiming that the woman represented herself as a doctor and characterized her home as a medical facility, causing the death of an estimated 100 children, according to All Africa.
The Women’s Probono Initiative, the organization that filed a lawsuit on behalf of two mothers who say their infant children died in Bach’s care, allege that Bach was often seen wearing a white medical coat and stethoscope, and administering medication to children; she allegedly even took children out of local Ugandan hospitals and moved them to the Serving His Children’s “treatment center.” After the death of their children, the complainants say they discovered that Bach had no medical qualifications and was ordered by Ugandan officials in 2015 to stop treating children and shut down her facility in Jinja. But two years later, Bach told the News Advance that her facility is registered with the Ugandan government as a rehabilitation center.
The official Ugandan High Court documents, obtained by The Root, contain allegations that Bach (who only has a high school diploma) was not a licensed medical practitioner but still “unlawfully practiced medicine and offered ‘medical services’ to unsuspecting vulnerable children.”
According to one report, a Ugandan official even says he personally witnessed Bach give a blood transfusion to a child sitting under a tree. That article, written by Nikki Gagnon, even contains a photograph of Bach inserting an intravenous line into an infant. Affidavits from the complaint reportedly contain testimony from a registered nurse affirming that Bach was observed performing a number of medical procedures. Former Serving His Children employee Semei Jolly told Al Jazeera that Bach would often cancel medication prescribed by local doctors and implement her own treatments. According to Jolly, when he raised the subject, Bach’s employees responded that “a boss is a boss.”
“There are procedural and regulatory mechanisms that ought to be followed when establishing a medical facility in Uganda,” explained Beatrice Kayaga, an officer at the Women’s Probono Initiative, in a press release announcing the court case. “It is unacceptable, narcissistic behavior, for anyone, black or white, rich or poor, missionary or angel to pass off as a ‘medical practitioner’ when they are not.”
The suit asks the High Court to shut down Bach’s organization entirely, charging her with “violating their right to access adequate treatment, the right to health of the children, the right to life, the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race and social economic standing and the right to dignity, freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The scandal has been brewing for a while. In 2018, Lauri Bach, Renee Bach’s mother and the U.S. director of Serving His Children, responded to an article from No White Saviors, an organization that accused Bach of “playing doctor” by writing (pdf):
At no time has our founder, Renee Bach, presented herself as a medical professional, experimented on or caused the death of any child. Having been trained by medical professionals to start IVs, Ms. Bach has in the past provided assistance in such procedures when requested and currently serves in an administrative capacity and participates in fundraising for the organization.
In a separate statement to Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” on Wednesday, Renee Bach said “these allegations that over 1,000 children died is absolute lies and allegations. I can’t rule out the fact that children died, like they do die at any health facility, but it’s still not true to say I killed them.”
But activists and citizens in and outside of Africa aren’t buying it.
The Ugandan news outlet, the Independent, talked to one mother, Annet Kakai, who is among the women suing Bach. She noted that she went to Bach because her son, Elijah, was “too small for his age”:
“The white lady dressed in doctor’s uniform (white lab coat) took my son and went with him to another room,” Kakai says. Bach returned the baby after about an hour and through an interpreter, she asked Kakai to return to the facility the next day.
When she returned the next day, Kakai and her baby was put … in a car driven to Kigandaalo Health Center IV in Mayuge; another district.
“Elijah was given some milk. We stayed there for two days and they discharged us,” Kakai says. She was not given a medical form or any document or any explanation.
“They didn’t say anything. They drove me up to Jinja Amber Court and gave me Shs2000. When we got home the baby became very weak. He died three days later,” she sobs. “Those people did something to my child and he died.”
She is now seeking justice. Her case is set to be heard on Mar.12 at the High Court in Jinja.
“This woman knew very well [that] she had no medical qualifications. But she turned the Ugandan children into bodies to experiment on,” Olaso Olivia Patience told Al Jazeera. “If it was a black woman who went to the United States or any part of Europe and did this, she would be in jail right now.”
Renee Bach has returned to the U.S., though her organization is still operating in other parts of Uganda. She did not appear at her March court date, and her attorneys were able to delay her suit until at least 2020, according to Ugandan High Court records and the Women’s Probono Initiative.