What was supposed to be a year-long service trip has turned into a life’s passion for Vito Capuano. Vito is the founder and president of Taasa Health Inc., a not-for-profit that’s dedicated to increasing access to healthcare in Uganda.
Vito says he grew up always wanting to volunteer or work for charities, but going overseas on mission trips opened his eyes to how influential that kind of work could be. He helped to teach Jamaican children lacrosse on a three-month trip in 2016, then spent nine months in Uganda in 2017-2018 working in business development for a health center.
“We were trending a lot of data, trying to make sure we could relay what the actual impact was from the donations to getting vaccinations, and how many babies we could serve in pre and postnatal care etc..”
Vito’s time in Uganda opened his eyes to the realities for Ugandan locals needing healthcare. The clinic didn’t have any power, so he had to help a maternity team to deliver a baby at night by shining a light from his cellphone. He says some people have to travel for an hour to get to their nearest clinic, which is a significant barrier.
“The place we're serving right now, 95 percent of the population earns less than $1.38 a day. They'd have to work a whole day to afford the taxi to get to wherever they’re getting treatment, and they often don’t have much left to pay for the treatment itself. It's a big expense.”
The clinic he worked in on his initial trip served up to 15,000 patients per month, and was considered well supported and well run. He was approached by a local clinician, Richard Ntwasi, who wanted his help to start a new clinic in his home village of Buvunya, which is where the inspiration for Taasa Health came from. Vito brought in his co-founders, Ted Hausler (now Taasa Health’s Chief of Medicine) for his medical experience, as well as Thomas Lawton (now Vice President) and Nikhil Dixit (Treasurer), and they started an NGO clinic outside the town of Jinja.
“In the early days, we brought on another midwife and another clinician, and we were treating about 200 to 300 patients a month. Since then, we've bought a new location, about 12 acres of land in the Kalungu District. So we're going to try to replicate the success we had at our first clinic on a bigger scale, trying to incorporate more of a holistic community development approach.
“We want to be like a one stop, with outpatient care, maternal services, lab services, and then have a pharmacy as well, so people can go through and get everything they need. We’d like to put in a community center, a school, a library for some after school programs and some sort of skills training and adult education programs as well. We’re also looking to put in a soccer field, and a community garden to subsidize the clinic, provide food and employ more people in the area.”
Working on an overseas mission can mean late night phone calls from Ugandan time zones, but Vito’s passion for what he’s doing overshadows any intrusions in his private life. When he’s not working, he likes to get outside with his dog Socks, who’s half cattle dog, half Australian shepherd.