EAC states need a regional hospital
Posted Sunday, October 6 2013 at 01:00
In the week that Gregory Matovu, MP Bukanga County, succumbed to cancer, a Tanzanian TV featured an interesting ‘miraculous’ healing.
It was a case of a middle-aged woman whose leg was swollen, suffering from what on the surface seemed to be elephantiasis. For 15 years, she and her family had lived in agony. Her husband had to quit his job as a long distance truck driver to attend to her. Around February, her case was featured on TV and her countrymen contributed generously to enable her fly to Apollo Hospital in India for treatment. Six months later, she returned totally cured.
The common factor between this lady’s story and the death of MP Matovu is the inability of our health system to manage what are otherwise curable diseases. While eulogising Matovu, Mr Medard Biteekyerezo, MP Mbarara Municipality (a medical doctor), wondered why our public hospitals are not equipped to handle the increasing cases of cancer and other non-communicable diseases. What is it that India has which we cannot have here? Has anybody computed how much money East Africa has spent (public and private) on foreign treatment of what would otherwise be manageable ailments?
True, relative to two decades ago, Uganda today has several advanced private hospitals, but as Dr Bitekyerezo pointed out, how many Ugandans can afford them? Minister John Nasaasira’s assertion that we now have good private hospitals where MPs can have medical insurance can only apply and be limited to MPs , ministers and families. The fact that MPs had to establish an insurance scheme for themselves and their families is a pointer to the importance of health insurance.
The health insurance scheme, proposed about three years ago, is slowly becoming history. Not a single legislator raised it as they eulogised Matovu. What exactly became of this scheme? While pushing for the East African integration agenda, what would it take for the EAC partner states to have an ‘Apollo Hospital’ in East Africa? Can’t the five states, plus its 130-plus million citizens raise enough money for a regional hospital to handle the diseases that see us spending billions of shillings in India?
We already have successful initiatives to benchmark and scale-up to establish reliable health care systems. Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund and Rwanda’s Social Health Insurance system (mutuelle de santé) are foundation enough to build on and establish a robust healthcare system in the region. Rwanda’s mutuelle de santé defeats the common escapist argument that our economies are too informal to be taxed, which our planners and policy-makers use to avoid establishing functioning systems. Uganda’s graduated tax system was functioning in an ‘informal’ economy.
If the EAC integration is to have meaning for us, it is such regional projects as high-tech hospitals that will make us see the benefits of our integration. Every citizen has the right to a healthy living, which currently is a preserve of the few privileged political class at public expense.
Kahunga Matsiko, firstname.lastname@example.org