Peter Kavuma was in grade school when he contracted malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that sickens more than 200 million people a year and killed nearly 660,000 in 2010.
Kavuma, now 23, lost consciousness for a day or two. He was given quinine through an intravenous drip and ultimately survived. The experience inspired him to pursue a career in internal medicine.
"I wanted to do exactly that for other people," he explained. "Most of us almost have some major traumatic event relating to an illness, probably malaria, and this doctor helps you out."
Kavuma and Douglas Akiibua, also 23, left their home country of Uganda for the first time and traveled to Iowa to participate in a medical student exchange program between Des Moines University and Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda. The program consists of an eight-week-rotation where Ugandan medical students spend time in the DMU clinic and at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines.
Kavuma and Akiibua also shadowed Dr. Tom Benzoni for 10 days in the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center - Sioux City. The medical students are in their fifth and final year at Makerere University College of Health Sciences.
Benzoni said young people like Kavuma and Akiibua should be tasked with running and improving the health care system, rather than his generation.
"They need to figure it out, not just Ugandan students, but American students, the whole system," he said. "The kids need to figure out how to do this."