Government moves to overhaul health sector

Monday January 9 2012

By TABU BUTAGIRA

KAMPALA

Disgraced by blighted structures and obsolete diagnostic equipment at public health facilities countrywide, government has kicked to life a major infrastructure development project to double the bed capacity of regional referral hospitals, and erect for each doctor a three-bed-roomed house.

All obsolete equipment will be replaced and each health professional employed by government provided at least a new two-bedroomed house, Health Minister Christine Ondoa said in an interview last week. The massive integrated infrastructure development is estimated to cost more than Shs700 billion and will take four to five years to complete.

Implementation of some projects contracted out to private engineering firms such as Joadah Consult of Eng. Joel Aiita, has either been completed, or is ongoing, while others are at final design stage.

Minister Ondoa said all staff houses erected during the infrastructure overhaul will be self-contained. “For a start, we will give accommodation priority to critical health workers - such as midwives, anesthetists and doctors, so that if a patient, like a woman in labour arrives in critical condition, the core health workers are within reach,” she said.

The plan is to ensure all health workers are eventually housed within the staff quarters, she said. “This is to motivate our workers; we want to solve the problem of accommodation and infrastructure for medical services,” Dr Ondoa said.

There has been widespread public outcry over falling healthcare standards at government-run facilities perennially constrained by drug stock outs, staffing shortage, crowding, among others.

It emerged yesterday that already 24 staff houses have been built for Mbale Referral Hospital; Arua has nine units ready while a storeyed structure at Masaka Hospital will accommodate 60 health workers, according to officials.

Details of the country’s first-ever integrated infrastructure development master plan indicate that bed capacity at each of the 13 regional referral hospitals are to be doubled from the present 200 to 350.

Separately, Permanent Secretary Asuman Lukwago told this newspaper that the infrastructure transformation will cost about Shs700b over the next five years, inclusive of other tailored projects.

These comprise the $33m (Shs79.2b) Islamic Development Bank-financed construction of a specialist Women’s Hospital at Mulago, $88m (Shs211b) yet to be approved loan from African Development Bank for re-touching Mulago Hospital and construction of two referral hospitals within the city.

It has emerged that some help will also come in from Uganda Blood Transfusion Services, although the details were not readily available.

PS Lukwago said they already linked Buganda Kingdom with the Middlesex-based Salaam Centre to jointly build a specialist Paediatric hospital. It is understood the Japanese government has separately offered to bankroll specific infrastructure projects at Arua, Moroto, Mubende and Masaka hospitals.

New hi-tech diagnostic equipment will be fitted and the refurbished or newly-erected public health facilities inter-linked online under what technocrats are calling e-health scheme. The government plans to put up a pair of “hi-tech, more specialised” referral hospitals in Kampala.

The developments, according to technocrats, will help decongest Mulago that is to turn into a lower bed capacity hospital, but offering “highly-specialised” or tertiary medical care such as cancer treatment, brain and heart surgery procedures- so that money presently expended on overseas referrals can be saved.

This newspaper has been told that the World Bank has in total committed $130m (Shs312b) to fund the infrastructure development project, reproductive health services and training of medical workers to bolster the human resource. The rising cases of brain drain is expected to be reversed with planned improvement of the welfare of public sector medics.

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