On Monday morning, patients and health workers at Iganga Hospital woke up to the sight of an unusual invasion by a group of demonstrators led by Iganga Municipality MP Peter Mugema, alias Panadol.
The group which carried placards demanding for the restoration of running water at the hospital premises was soon followed by police officers led by the District Police Commander, Mr Herbert Nuwagaba.
Water problems at the hospital were said to have started more than two years ago when the National Water and Sewerage Corporation cut off supply over a Shs30 million debt.
A medical worker who asked not to be named for security purposes, revealed that it was unrealistic that a government parastatal could cut off supply to another non-profit government-owned health facility.
The worker said the development compelled the hospital administration to sink a centrifugal borehole, which would pump water to the wards and staff quarters.
Problems, however, arose about two months ago when the pump that the administration had been using to send water around, broke down and there was no money to repair it. “We could not raise the money to procure a new water pump. We are still unable to raise the money. We have to wait until the government starts disbursing funds,” the hospital administrator, Mr Julius Kabusere, said.
Although he had wanted to, Mr Kabusere could not resort to the kind of radical action that Mr Mugema opted for, yet while it might be dismissed as another populist move, one cannot rule out the fact that Mr Mugema’s actions were born out of a feeling of frustration. He felt frustrated that his appeals for immediate intervention had not received the attention they deserved. “I have tried to contact all the relevant authorities, including the Minister of Health but they remain unconcerned,” Mr Kabusere said.
Fighting for services
Mr Mugema, who had promised to go on hunger strike until water supply was restored was instead hauled out of the hospital premises and held for hours at the police station before being released without any charge.
The government’s response to the legislator’s antics was quite swift.
Later on Monday afternoon, State Minister for Health Eliod Tumwesigye arrived for an impromptu tour of the hospital premises and promised that water supply would be restored by close of business.
The water problem at the hospital is, however, just a tip off the iceberg.
The facility, one of the 22 hospitals built by the Obote I regime, is besieged by many more problems. At the time of its completion in 1968, the facility was designed to serve 250,000 people, who were then spread across the greater Iganga, comprising of Mayuge, Namutumba and Luuka districts.
While the hospital is now expected to provide services to an estimated 1.5 million people in Mayuge, Bugiri, Luuka, Namutumba, Kaliro and parts of Jinja districts, government funding remains low. “We have been receiving about Shs168 million annually and that has remained static for the last 10 years,” Mr Muhammad Kiyemba, who is attached to the office of the medical superintendent, said.
Such poor funding also means that the hospital, which consumes power worth an estimated Shs4 million monthly, can never clear its monthly bill. What it owes the power distribution company, Umeme, has been accumulating over the last several years.
Other facilities have also never been expanded to match the increase in patient numbers. The only addition to the original four wards; male, female, pediatric and maternity, has been the Usaid-funded Community Hall, which houses people living with HIV/Aids.
This means that cases that would ordinarily require some kind of isolation often end up in the general wards. “We do have a psychiatric department, but we don’t have a psychiatric ward. Patients are admitted to the general ward,” Mr Kiyemba explained.
Despite the fact that it handles very many cases of injuries arising from traffic accidents, the hospital does not have a casualty department to handle such cases.
The mortuary too is small. It only handles up to eight bodies, but for only a short time as there are no refrigeration facilities. Only about 40 per cent of the staff are accommodated, but even then most of the structures are in urgent need of rehabilitation. “Equipment which was installed in 1968 has never been replaced. The most affected are the plumbing systems, theatre equipment and medical equipment,” Mr Kabusere said.
From the foregoing, it is clear that while the institution will this year mark 45 years of existence, the facility is a tale of stunted growth. It is yet to be seen if the government intervention, promised by Minister Elliod Tumwesigye, will give the institution the facilitation it deserves.
Some good might after all come out of the Panadol pills that alias Panadol might have administered on Monday.