21 March 2011

Uganda: Tame Crisis in the Health Sector

That Uganda's health sector is in a mess is no longer news. What is peculiar, however, is why the government has remained oblivious to the fact that the sector is itself on drip.

Why, for instance, should Mulago National Referral Hospital, the embodiment of Uganda's healthcare system, be plagued by endless problems? Corruption, lack of drugs, mismanagement, patient demonstrations, congestion, fraud, power failure and faulty equipment, among others, are what defines this once great national health facility.

Only last month, power failure reportedly led to the death of 15 people at Mulago Hospital. It is that sad but perhaps that is just a tip of the iceberg.

With a 2,300 staff at the hospital and, a doctor, nurse to patient ratio of 1:40, the health workers remain overwhelmed. While the patient numbers are growing by the day, the supply of equipment, including basic ones, is either static or unreliable. To patients, Mulago is fast turning into an institution for adding on their sorrows, not relief.

If the state of a national referral hospital is that bad, then what should you expect of regional and district hospitals as well as government-aided health centres?

Strangely, while you would expect this to concern Primary Health Minister James Kakooza more, signs are that it is off his thinking radar. The minister is instead (mis)directing his energies into politicking - calling for extension of presidential term limits from five to seven years.

In the interest of especially the citizenry whose lives are ever on the line due to lack of effective health service provision, the government must focus on this sector in general and Mulago Hospital in particular as its top priority. This must be reflected in increased budget support to avoid a situation where, for instance, the 2008-2009 Mulago Hospital's report to the ministry shows that out of the Shs24.3 billion it requested for drugs and sundries, only Shs10 billion was provided.

The government must also recruit more health workers at all levels and improve their terms and conditions of service. This will help to attract and retain them at their duty stations.

Above all, only people who have feelings for others, not political non-entities, should be entrusted with the responsibility of managing, monitoring and supervising the Health Ministry.

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