Health ministry position on doctors irresponsible

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 issue: Healthcare system

Our view: Something drastic has to give if  Uganda is to recover its health sector. For now, the ministry of health has been most alarming in some of its actions.

It is seven years since Dr Diana Kanzira Atwine replaced Dr Asuman Lubowa as permanent secretary at the ministry of Health on November 4, 2016, during which time the ministry has contrived to leave many people unsure about its intentions.

Ugandans have looked on open-mouthed as dubious policy pronouncements are made. Shocked professionals fear that if nothing is done to stem the tide, the very ethics and high standards of Uganda’s medical body-politic may collapse.

Two particularly objectionable propositions have lately been trotted out: a possible withdrawal of some government funding to public hospitals. And, this week’s unbelievable suggestion that medical interns should pay for internship placement!

Our national health sector is in crisis. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the shocking decline is down to the health ministry’s strange policy concoctions. Unhealthy reports about frequent drug stock-outs and lack of manpower to deliver basic health care is now the stuff of legend and yet the ministry still finds room for irresponsible declarations.

Almost all the good things promised about health centres I through IV remain a pipe dream. We have empty shells for health centres upcountry: No doctors, hardly a nurse or midwife, infrastructure that is unfit for human habitation and, in some especially unhealthy cases, watchmen have been seen dispensing medicines where available.

How does the health ministry expect to realise the government’s wish to have one doctor in every health centre III? By refusing to facilitate internships for qualified doctors one year down the road, effectively ring-fencing internship for the few rich who may be able to pay their way? By arrogantly responding to realistic demands from specialist doctors for better working conditions? Is that the desired state of the nation we deserve?

Let it be known that the moment a government begins to abandon its constitutional duty to uphold citizens’ non-negotiable right to life, health and human dignity as enshrined in Articles 24 and 44 of Uganda’s Constitution, it relinquishes most claims to legitimacy.

We already have a suit in court filed by the Centre for Health Human Rights and Development in February against the Attorney General and National Medical Stores (NMS). The NMS stands accused of abdicating its primary duty to ensure timely distribution of essential drugs and medical supplies to public health facilities. Evidence of its failing can be found all over the place.

While NMS blames a lack of funds, one must wait for what the Inspector General of Government will unearth following last Friday’s unannounced inspection visit. Something drastic has to give if  Uganda is to recover its health sector. For now, the ministry of health has been most alarming in some of its actions.

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