On Monday, Cabinet resolved that it will ban use of public funds for the treatment of government officials outside the country once the construction of a modern hospital at Lubowa on Entebbe Road is complete.
The facility, an investment by the Italian-based firm, Finasi, is expected to have specialised units equipped with top of the range medical equipment and medical personnel to allow for the treatment of ailments such as cancer and brain tumours, which at the moment can only be treated outside the country.
The decision was a reiteration of the revelation made by the State Minister for Health in Charge of General Duties, Ms Sarah Opendi, in August last year, that the Medical Board will cease referring government officials and politicians abroad for treatment once the $49 million African Development Bank (AfDB)-funded renovation and upgrade of Mulago National Referral Hospital is complete.
Minister Opendi revealed that government had in the financial year 2016/2017 spent Shs30 billion on the treatment of public officials, money which President Museveni says should not be donated to other countries.
The Cabinet’s decision is, no doubt, commendable, but this should not be only about saving money. It should also be about investing in the health sector to allow us grow a critical mass of medical specialists and experts.
The health sector has been hit by brain drain for a long time. As of January 2010, the movement of skilled professionals from Africa to the West was costing the continent an estimated $4 billion.
Uganda was at the time estimated to be annually losing at least 50 doctors to brain drain and up to 30 per cent of its graduate medical workers left the country immediately after graduation. The result was that by 2013, the doctor to patient ratio stood at 1:24,725.
The brain drain has been mostly about poor remuneration and pathetic working conditions. In May 2016, Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, who was chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, said 240 specialist doctors had left the country due to poor pay and bad working conditions.
But the brain drain has also been about government’s failure to invest in the health sector. Whereas it is okay for government to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Finasi to enable government take over the Lubowa facility after eight years, we need to increase investments in public health facilities if we are to develop a home-grown crop of specialists to provide specialised treatment.