Govt terminates contracts of 1,000 Covid health workers

The president of UMA, Dr Samuel Odong Oledo (centre), accompanied by (left to right) nursing officer Maria Nantayi, the UMA chair of welfare, Dr Alone Nahabwe, and UMA’s deputy secretary general Faith Nabushawo addresses a press conference at Mulago Guest House in Kampala on March 30, 2022. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Government attributes the decision to a reduction in Covid-19 infections.

A disagreement has erupted between Ministry of Health and Uganda Medical Association (UMA) following the former’s move to terminate the contract of health workers who were running Covid-19 treatment units in public facilities.

The March 18 termination letter signed by the Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, comes amid failure by the ministry to give the health workers their payment for over four months.

In the letter, which was addressed to all hospital directors, Dr Atwine said they made the decision to terminate contracts of the workers because of the reduction in Covid-19 infections which has led to few patients in hospitals for the health workers to manage, coupled with budgetary constraints.

“It has been decided to scale down the number of health workers under emergency response to Covid-19. In view of the above, all local non-gratuitable contracts health workers recruited under the emergency response to Covid-19 and deployed in Covid-19 treatment centres have been terminated with effect from March 30,” the letter reads in part.

Accordingly, the ministry asked the hospital directors to mainstream the management of Covid-19 into the existing structure to ensure continuity of Covid-19 service delivery in hospitals and ensure proper handover of any government property that may be in the possession of the affected staff.

Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the director of public health at the ministry, said they currently have only two patients admitted to the hospital. 

This is a significant reduction compared to the second wave last year when Covid-19 patients overwhelmed hospitals and some died outside the wards because the units were full.

More than 1,000 health workers --200 doctors, 600 nurses and other health cadres have been affected by the termination, according to UMA president, Dr Samuel Oledo. 

But the UMA secretary general, Dr Herbert Luswata, and the ministry spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, put the number at 350. Mr Ainebyoona said some health workers were being funded by development partners.

Staffing gap
Addressing journalists in Kampala yesterday, Dr Oledo said the termination will create a serious service gap in the hospitals and affect general service delivery because hospitals across the country are already grappling with intolerably limited health workers.

“We have 40 percent staff gap in hospitals. Even while working in Covid-19 treatment unit, some were being deployed to assist in other wards in the hospital,” he said.

He added: “But now you are telling us that even the few who are employed on contract basis –doctors, pharmacists, anaesthesiologists, nurses since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019, trying to address the issue of the disease and to make sure we have a minimum number of deaths, are being thrown out when they were giving care!”

Dr Oledo asked the ministry to reverse the move and pay the arrears immediately, warning that they would consider another industrial action.

One of the affected medics, Ms Maria Nantayi, a nursing officer, who has been taking care of Covid-19 patients at Mulago hospital treatment centre for two years, said she feels the ministry used and dumped them.

“Nationwide, as nurses, we have our own challenges. In the past five months, people have not been paid their salaries, National Social Security Fund was last paid in November and some people didn’t get their contracts from the Ministry of Health,” she said.

“We are appealing to the PS to pay us our salaries. If it doesn’t come out this week, another action shall be taken ,” Ms Nantayi said. 

She added that the government had in late 2021 validated them and promised to absorb the contracted workers, a claim the ministry didn’t deny.

Ministry’s take

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Health spokesperson, told this newspaper the government will pay the arrears of the medical workers within a few days and also select those with desired qualities to continue working in hospitals.

“We decided to terminate the contracts because we never had resources to cater for their payments and allowances. Since there are no cases that require admission, we said we shall have to have them be off until when there is a threat and there are resources,” Mr Ainebyoona said.  

He didn’t mention the amount of money the government was spending on the health workers.

Mr Ainebyoona added: “We are also analysing various qualifications to see those ones who can be absorbed within the available slots that have the wage.”