Every year government spends at least $150 million (about Shs377 billion) on treatment of mostly top government officials abroad, a cost President Museveni wants brought down by restricting the privilege to a few selected severe cases.
A leaked report from last December’s ministerial retreat which was convened to assess the government’s performance in the previous year reveals a renewed attempt by the country’s leader to sort out Uganda’s severely stressed health sector.
“The President stressed the need to curb the high numbers of patients seeking specialised health treatment abroad which was costing the country about $150 million annually,” the report compiled by the Office of the Prime Minister said.
That figure is almost equal to the Shs397.31 billion donors contribute towards the country’s Shs985.5 billion health budget.
Mr Museveni is quoted as having also directed that “pay for scientists including medical doctors should not just be prioritised but increased.”
Yesterday, Ministry of Health permanent secretary Asuman Lukwago agreed that the expenditure on treatment abroad, which he referred to as “estimation”, was not necessary although it is up to a patient to decide where to be treated.
“The question is: do we have the ability to treat most of these cases here? Yes we do,” said the PS, before adding that “the challenge is to convince government officials that they do not need to travel abroad because we can do it here”.
According to the PS, with the ongoing efforts to rejuvenate health facilities, including upgrading all referral hospitals, the Shs377 billion spent on treatment abroad could be reduced.
Efforts to get a comment from the country’s Medical Board, which is charged with the responsibility of recommending individuals for State-sponsored treatment abroad, were futile.
The fact that treatment abroad costs nearly half of the entire budgets of two key ministries—health and education – exposes the government in terms of its priorities, according to observers.
“That amount of money is just enough to have the necessary facilities needed to attend to all these treated abroad,” Makerere University economics lecturer Augustus Nuwagaba, said in an interview yesterday. He said: “That amount of money can help in better health delivery and at the same time stop capital outflow, something that largely contributes in weakening our Shilling.”
Prof. Nuwagaba argued that the country’s problem is not lack of medical practitioners but poor pay. “Almost half of the 40,000 Ugandan professionals in North America are health personnel, this means our problem is not the human resource,” he said.
Daily Monitor’s efforts to corroborate the suggestion that Shs377 billion would be enough to appropriately upgrade local health infrastructure so as to stop the preference for treatment outside was, however, not immediately possible.
Dr Byarugaba Baterana, the executive director at the National Referral Hospital Mulago and Dr Tom Mwambu, the deputy director at the Uganda Heart Institute, said they could not make an offhand estimation when reached for comment.
The meeting of the top government officials also discussed supplementary requests, emphasising its negative impact on budget execution and performance. But instead of curbing it they proposed the creation of a contingency Fund from which government would draw anytime.