IGNITED HOPES: The Man Who Had One CD4 Count Narrates How Reach Out Mbuya Saved His Life


US Ambassador to Uganda H.E Natalie Brown (c) is shown some of the historical moments of Reach Out Mbuya by the Executive Director Josephine Kaleebi PHOTO/PATRICK JARAMOGI




KAMPALA, Uganda|SHIFTMEDIA| When he was told that his CD4 count was one his hopes for survival were dashed.

The dashed hopes of John Robert Engole didn’t stop the zealous medics from attending to him. “Doctors told me that my CD4 count was one, meaning I was inevitably left with one thing, DEATH,” said Engole.


“They “Doctors” feared that putting me on ARVs would worsen my situation further. But I had hope, and that is why I am alive 18 years down the road.”

This was one of the powerful testimonies delivered by Engole Robert, now a senior pastor with the Abaralela Pentecostal Assembly Churches of God (PAG) in Katakwi, in eastern Uganda.


Engole’s testimony couldn’t stop tears rolling the cheeks of those who graced the celebrations to mark 20 years of Reachoutmbuya

Engole was the first PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ) client in the world.

Reach Out Mbuya
US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown decorates John Robert Engole during the event


ROM, that made lives of those living with HIV/AIDS like Engole Robert shine with hope was showcasing what they have done to save lives to over 15,000 clients since it was started in 2001.

Not even the wet, cold and rainy day would deter the celebrations that was held at St. Paul’s Primary School, and ROM Site in Banda, a Kampala suburb.


Engole who contracted HIV/AIDS when pursuing  his Bachelors Degree in Education is now a proud father of six children. “When I tested positive for HIV/AIDS I had three children, today I have six, and they are all negative including my wife.”

Engole, now a teacher of History at Abaralela Secondary School in Katakwi urged Ugandans to desist from stigmatizing those with HIV/AIDS.


US Ambassador pays tribute

The celebrations was graced by the United States Ambassador to Uganda H.E Natalie E. Brown


“I am delighted to join you today for this very special occasion – celebrating 20 years of existence of Reach Out Mbuya Community Health Initiative,” she said. “Congratulations on this milestone! I am especially touched to see not only current, but also past ROM leaders, including CDC Prevention Branch Chief Stella Alamo-Talisuna, who was ROM ED from 2006-2014.”


Natalie is not the first US ambassador to honor ROM events, one of predecessors, Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, officiated in 2019 when ROM celebrated PEPFAR’s 15-year anniversary.

The US envoy noted that her government takes issues of health seriously, and that is the reason the invest over $500 million in Uganda’s health sector annually.


“With the establishment of PEPFAR in 2003, Uganda became a focus country for the program, supporting implementation of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services to those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. To date, PEPFAR has invested over $4 billion dollars in Uganda’s fight against HIV. Thanks to our U.S. government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC CDCdc. and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “ she told the guests.


She said the U.S. Mission in Kampala has enjoyed close collaboration with ROM, right from the start of PEPFAR’s USEmbassy./grant- establishment here and continuing to date.

Currently, ROM is receiving PEPFAR funds through CDC’s partners, the Infectious Diseases Institute and Mildmay-Uganda, as well as implementing the USAID Integrated Child and Youth Development Activity in Kampala District through the Bantwana Initiative of World Education,” said Natalie.


US Ambassador to Uganda H.E Natalie Brown (c) is shown some of the historical moments of Reach Out Mbuya by the Executive Director Josephine Kaleebi PHOTO/PATRICK JARAMOGI
The cake that was served to guests to mark the 20 years of ROM

“I am particularly pleased to learn that the first PEPFAR client in the world, John Robert Engole, is a ROM client and he is right here with us today! ROM and Mr. Engole’s story are an important part of the very successful legacy of PEPFAR and of partnership in addressing the global pandemic of HIV” she said.

Natalie urged Ugandans to remain vigilant amidst COVID 19 by getting vaccinated.

“Don’t count the things you do, but do the things that count.” Get your jab quick. For now, let us join ROM to toast to the 20 years of doing things that count” said Natalie.


ROM Founders speak out

Dr. Margrethe Junker, who co-founded ROM to respond to the community’s needs said: “When in landed here I received most kisses, from scores of our clients I met very many years ago. Even the COVID 19 pandemic would not stop me receiving the warm hugs.”

Margrethe said in 2001 many Ugandans were dying due to HIV/AIDS in the slum communities in  Banda, Acholi quarters, and Gizagiza. “Dr. Magaret Kironde was so influential in the start of the school feeding programmes, home based care visits. On 15th March 2004 the best gift ever of the day came in form of PEPFAR,” she said.

US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown
US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown chats with ROM Executive Director Josephine Kaleebi during the event


Elimination of Mother-to-Child transmission

Josephine Kaleebi the current Reach Out Mbuya Executive Director said ROM brought lost hope among thousands like Engole Robert who were living with HIV/AIDS. “I am glad that for all these years, we are here celebrating 20 years with Engole Robert and scores of our clients,” she said.

Kaleebi said that with zero budgets, and high deaths, they still kept on with hope. “Today ROM registers zero mother to child HIV/AIDS infection. ROM was also the first facility in Uganda to cease registering mother to child infections,” she said.

She said ROM has so far attended to over 15,000 clients with latest statistics indicating that they cover over 8,000 clients annually.



The US Ambassador to Uganda H.E Natalie Brown with some of the founders and clients of Reach Out Mbuya

Board Chair hails ROM

The Reach Out Mbuya Chairperson Board, of Directors Fr. Anthony  Kimbowa Kibira hailed ROM for healing and giving hope to many Ugandans.

“I am happy that the catholic church is at the center of giving hope to humanity,” said Fr. Kimbowa.

He expressed gratitude to the US government for the continued support.




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