Thursday September 4 2014

No child should die from neglect

By Editorial

A health review report published on Monday reveals that children and mothers are dying as a result of not getting proper attention at health facilities.

The assistant health officer of Lira District, Mr Edmon Acheka, says 122 babies died in the 30 health facilities across the district between May 2013 and March this year as a result of absenteeism of health workers and non-functional theaters.

This report offers insight into the general quality of health service in Uganda where child mortality currently stands at 131 per 1,000 live births, the highest rate in East Africa. It is unacceptable that some of the deaths are a result of neglect, a behaviour that must not be allowed to thrive in a sector where the primary calling is saving lives. Life has no price tag.

The challenges facing the sector are numerous and understandable. Health workers in this country are among the least paid civil servants in spite of the enormous work they do. Many health facilities across the country often run out of drugs, lack basic equipment and simple protective gear such as gloves. Some health workers also have to trek long distances from their homes to duty stations, especially those operating in rural communities.

The plight of health workers is, indeed, deplorable. On occasions, they had to go on strike to protest poor pay or delayed salaries, they have won public sympathy. However, poor working conditions notwithstanding, neglect of duty is intolerable, especially when it is a matter of life and death.

Addressing the key issues in the health sector requires overall review of the health budget. The sector has for years been allocated inadequate resources and it remains one of the least funded. This financial year’s allocation – Shs1,197.8 billion – remains way below the Abuja Declaration where the government is required to provide not less than 15 per cent of its budget to health.

It is important that government puts in place accountability mechanisms to demand better results from public health workers. But that should go hand-in-hand with better remuneration.

A monitoring system will also help the government, members of the public and other stakeholders, including the donor community to ascertain why health workers are absconding from duty or reporting late for work and as a result, leaving children and mothers to die unattended to.
Such a mechanism will also inform decisions aimed at improving service delivery in the health sector.