Health ministry, medical interns clash over salary raise

More than 1,000 medical interns, including doctors, pharmacists, and nurses in government hospitals through their umbrella Uganda Medical Interns United (UMIU), went on strike over delayed payment, salary disparities, and other welfare issues.

What you need to know:

  • Speaker Anita Among said the strike’s timing was worrying because the country was dealing with an Ebola outbreak, among other ailments

PARLIAMENT. Striking medical interns and Ms Margaret Muhanga, the Minister of Primary Healthcare, yesterday read from different scripts as lawmakers pushed the government to explain the cause of the sit-down strike that has paralysed hospitals countrywide.
The Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anita Among (Bukedea Woman MP) brought the matter to light during her communication to the House during the afternoon plenary session.

Ms Among said the strike’s timing was worrying because the country was dealing with an Ebola outbreak, among other ailments.
The Speaker then requested for an update from Ms Muhanga about the strike.
“The interns have been paid to date, and there is nothing left to be paid to them and the strike was called off,” Ms Muhanga told the House.
“The dentists and doctors were paid Shs2.5 million, the pharmacists Shs2m, nurses and midwives Shs1.5m. However, July and August were paid from the first quota but releases were inadequate, and thus [we] paid September and October in this quarter,” she added.

But Ms Among was not convinced, further pushing the minister for details.
“The issue of medics, doctors, nurses [salaries] and you say the releases were insufficient. You would rather not pay a Member of Parliament but pay a doctor because they are looking after our people,” Ms Among said.
In response, Ms Muhanga said the Finance ministry sent them less funds.
But Ms Among wondered why the Health ministry did not return to the House to inform them that they did not have money for salaries.
However, Ms Muhanga replied that they had been writing to Parliament and the Finance ministry over the matter.
But Ms Among denied receiving the communication.

“As far as I know, I have not received any communication because if you are writing to this House, you will write to the Speaker. We have not had any communication regarding payment of medics,” she said.
Following the submissions, a section of members of the Health committee disapproved Ms Muhanga’s statements.
The MPs said they had earlier in the day interfaced with a group of medical interns who claimed they were not paid.
“We have just been from the Health committee where we met the leadership of the medical interns. They said they have not been paid even after a pronouncement that they were paid for September and October, they have not called off the strike nor have they been met by the Health ministry,” Mr Michael Bayigga Lulume (Buikwe South) said.

“So, ... the strike is [still] on, the interns have never been met or paid, therefore the minister is lying,” he added.
Mr Samuel Acuti Opio (Kole North) told the House that the interns had made  efforts to meet the Health Ministry but in vain.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Mr Mathias Mpuuga (Nyendo-Mukungwe Division) said between the state minister and committee members, it was important to identify the liar and have them “charged.”
Ms Among ruled that she wanted evidence today showing that the interns were indeed paid.

“We need a comprehensive statement in this House today [Wednesday] which we will debate. We also want evidence of payment that should be laid on table and we want evidence that the Finance [ministry] did not release all the money. You are saying that they did not release [the funds] yet the minister told us that all money for salaries was released. So we need all that [information] today and come ready for a debate on the issue of medics,” she said.

What medical interns said
The interns told the Committee of Health yesterday that they had not yet been paid.“For the months of September and October, medical interns have not been paid even after being informed that the Health ministry had released the money,” Dr Musa Lumumba, the president of the Federation of Uganda Medical Interns, told committee members.
“We are in a horrible situation since part of this money is what enables us to afford food, water, shelter, clothing, among other basic needs,” Dr Lumumba added. During the discussion with the committee, their pay increment, previously directed by President Museveni, was also brought up.

 “We expect allowances for intern doctors, dental surgeons, and pharmacists to be Shs2.7m as the senior medical officers receive Shs5.4m. Then, Shs 2.4 million should be accorded to the intern nurses and midwives as their senior equivalents earn Shs4.8m,” Dr Lumumba said.“The presidential directive has however not been implemented up to now,” he added. 
The chairperson of the committee, Mr Charles Ayume (Koboko Municipality), said since they were meeting representatives of the Health ministry tomorrow, they would also bring up the matter so that they can conclusively resolve it.