With only 37 intensive care unit beds across the country, a shocking doctor to patient ration of 1:178,600 against the recommended WHO ratio of 1:12,500, and medical staffing levels of 58% with some facilities having as low as 30%, the country’s public health care is virtually limping.
To put the crisis in perspective, Uganda remains among the few countries in the world where public health facilities sometimes turn away patients for lack or shortage of not only medical facilities such as drugs and beds, but also manpower inform of health workers.
In reaction to a recent ban on recruitment of medical workers which has since been lifted, Prof. Pius Okong who is the Chairman of the Health Service Commission warned of a pending “disaster” should government not make a U-turn. This opinion is manifestly favored by many which has profited the debate the mileage it so much deserved.
MPs had earlier threatened to block the entire budget should government fail to avail the much needed 260 billion to save what some referred to as a “dead” health sector. This chunk of money is purposed to enhance health workers salaries by 50%, facilitate recruitment of around 6,905 health workers thereby bolstering staffing levels to around 66%, and other duty allowances. Of course a middle ground has been found in this pulsating debate and the budget has been passed with parliament approving 49.5 billion to the health sector.
It is envisioned that these steps will motivate health workers to enable them transform the state of public health care in this country.
In as much as these steps will make the public health sector better placed to tackle the challenges it faces today, we need to have a holistic approach to achieve the intended targets. As we have learnt from past experiences, availability of resources and manpower does not necessarily translate into better service provision.
Huge funds have been allocated in the past only to be looted with utter impunity to the detriment of a tax-paying Ugandan who anticipated better goods and services.
As I write this, Gulu Referral Hospital can’t account for over 900 million meant for construction of it’s staff quarters. World Bank estimates that Uganda loses at least 500 billion to procurement related corruption annually. Inquiries into billions paid to ghost pensioners are ongoing yet beneficiaries are going hungry. Billions of money are often set aside to facilitate noble causes but end up satisfying the greed of a few thieving officials. From time to time, the ghosts of the ID project and the LC bicycles keep haunting us. This rot must stop if the intended targets are to be met.
Absenteeism and neglect is yet another serious problem dogging not only the public health sector but almost all public sectors. The number of complaints of patients being neglected by health workers has been on the rise of recent and few really want to discuss this topic.
A few days ago, I watched grisly pictures in the news of a pregnant woman in her labour pains abandoned on the walk way just outside a hospital wailing in profound pain helplessly swinging her arms from left to right as if to grab onto some strength to live another minute. I gather that investigations are underway to bring the negligent medical staff responsible to justice. This has to stop. Legal action should be preferred against staffs who neglect their duties to act as a deterrent measure for those who are yet to appreciate the severity of such irresponsible actions.
Huge chunks of money alone will not solve the problems in our health sector. We need a holistic approach which is beyond boardroom meetings in five-star hotels and unnecessary field visits in fuel guzzling monster cars. We need mechanisms to deliver medicines and devoted medical staffs at the lowest levels of our public health units and better still sensitize public to cut down on occurrences of avertable diseases.