Government is planning to import Cuban doctors because “our doctors behaved very badly, unprofessionally.” The doctors are demanding salary enhancement, better allowances, housing, vehicles, domestic workers and disbanding or restructuring of the State House Health Monitoring Unit, which monitors health service delivery.
It is sickening that government can claim that Ugandan doctors are holding it at ransom. The Constitution provides everyone economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, our doctors have a constitutional right to form trade unions under Article 29(e) for collective bargaining as this is an extension of the economic rights under Article 40. The doctors under their umbrella body, Uganda Medical Association, have every right to express their concerns.
Secondly, this impasse is violating the right to healthcare of many Ugandans, particularly during the time when doctors lay down their tools. But holding industrial action is guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore, this impasse has to be resolved. It is disheartening to learn that this issue has instead been highly vulgarised and politicised. Decision makers are using emotions rather than rationality to sort this mess. How do you get angry because doctors are making demands? How do you call people who are exercising their constitutional rights names? What sort of society are we building for the future generation?
We do not need Cuban doctors, we need to fix our systems. There is enough human resource in the health sector. What can any doctor - local or Cuban do without sanitisers, gloves, medicines, stretchers, beds, running water, constant power supply, functional maternal wards, standard housing units for the health workers, etc? Besides, Cuban doctors will require local and sign languages interpreters; we shall be fetching water in the basket.
I do not understand why Tororo hospital, one of the few referral hospitals in eastern Uganda, can go without electricity for a week; how we seek more than Shs9 billion to destroy expired drugs; how we have no functional ambulance system; how we are still grappling with issues of sanitary pads for girls in schools and yet we are providing free condoms for boys.
If government says it does not have money for doctors’ salary raise, then where will the money to pay Cuban doctors come from? It is proposed that the Cubans are to be paid $1,500 (Shs5.4m) excluding housing, transport and security allowances while Ugandan doctors are to earn Shs4.4m.
Secondly, the proposed inter-ministerial team comprising officials from Public Service, Health, Finance, Solicitor General, Deputy Treasurer and the HSC chairman travel to Cuba to pursue the deal; the ticketing, per diems, hotel costs, etc are expenses that can be avoided. The team should instead use the time to sort out Ugandan doctors.
Section 20 of the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, 1998 enjoins the Cuban doctors to be subjected to interviews and examinations to ensure they are fit to do the job by the Medical Licensing Examination Board. Further, they will have to be subjected to a “peer review committee”, undergo a one-month internship and be registered by the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council.