Govt ring-fences doctors’ internship for rich – UMA

A police officer chases pre-medical intern doctors as they marched to the Ministry of Health in Kampala to protest the delay to deploy them for internship yesterday. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • The medical workers’ association says government’s proposal to deploy medical interns at their own cost will yield inequality among the future health workers and will affect the quality of service and outcomes of treatments.

The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has rejected the proposal by the Health ministry to only deploy pre-medical interns who can afford to “pay” for the internship placement.

UMA said in a statement yesterday that the proposal is “extremely dangerous, discriminatory, [and] not well thought through”, especially for those pre-medical interns who cannot afford to sustain themselves.

“…[this proposal] will yield inequality among the future health workers and will affect the quality of service and outcomes of treatments. Medical practice in Uganda should neither be a preserve of the rich nor should it push desperate future professional health workers into “healthcare slavery,” UMA said in the statement.

Medical interns are qualified doctors, pharmacists and nurses who need a one-year placement in hospitals to get permanent practising licences from their respective professional bodies. Some medical interns, according to information from UMA, have been waiting for deployment for more than 10 months now.

However, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Health ministry spokesperson, said the proposal is based on an agreement  between the ministry and some parents that was arrived at on Tuesday.

“The Ministry of Health yesterday held a meeting with leaders of pre-medical interns where they were updated on the available options for deployment to medical internship as the ministry waits for communication from the Ministry of Finance on the availability of funds for their allowances,” he said.

He added: “During the zoom meeting, the permanent secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, informed the medical pre-interns that some parents and pre-interns had approached the ministry requesting to be allowed to start internship at their own cost to avoid further loss of time.”

Mr Ainebyoona said the ministry, during the meeting, also observed that the delayed deployment of medical interns has distorted the internship cycles. This is because other students are about to graduate from various medical schools and these will also compete for the same training facilities.

“It is against this background that the ministry requested those pre-medical interns who, in the meantime, can afford to apply for deployment in the internship training centres of their choice. She added that they will be reimbursed if the Ministry of Finance avails funds,” Mr Ainebyoona added.

However, UMA was not convinced.

“We take very strong exception to this declaration. The planned discriminatory deployment may also result in a drop in the standards of ethical practice, including “extortion” by the interns if only to survive, put food on the table or rent accommodation in the districts they will be deployed at.”

They also promised to hold an emergency general assembly on Saturday at 2pm to further discuss the next steps and “protect the medical profession.”

UMA advised “all pre-interns against applying for this trap.”

The interns, about 1,091 in number, are essential in the health system due to the low number of medical workers employed by the government.

Last month, a Cabinet meeting resolved that payment for medical interns, which ranges from Shs1.5 million to Shs2.5 million, should be maintained to keep the young medical workers motivated as they handle patients.