The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Pius Katunzi - Who Will Save Us From the Medical Vultures?

opinion

He once confessed that because of fears about his family's security, he has had to rely on health experts from abroad. His reasons may sound plausible but this does not explain why in the last 27 years of his stewardship, he has failed to build a reliable health system. Is he not concerned with the security of his voters?

And because the president and some members of his cabinet are detached from our health system, we ordinary citizens have been left to the devices of these unscrupulous medical workers. Yes, perhaps Ugandans too don't trust them, but what choice have they been left with?

I have noted that whenever we talk about the health sector, my colleagues hold their noses, to symbolize the stink. The sector is sick through and through. It wouldn't sound unfair to claim that at times one picks up more diseases from contacting medical facilities or personnel. If you are fainthearted, never visit Mulago hospital's casualty and maternity wards.

In the casualty wing, which is supposed to handle emergencies, doctors and other medical workers work at cross purposes with the needs of the patients. It is worse past midnight. If you want to get the feel of how medical workers have become detached from their professional ethics, this is a good sample space from which to carry out your research.

You can writhe in pain, yell on top of your voice but the doctor will look at you as if you were attempting to perform a karaoke in the wrong place. He won't flinch. Sometimes the doctors are overwhelmed. The unit is run by one doctor and at times some emergencies need surgery of the kind that can't be performed by a junior doctor. So, the patient is advised to wait. There is a gang of extortionist nurses who are ever on the alert to pick those who are willing to part with some money.

One of the sectors that should never have been liberalized is the health sector. By government introducing cost-sharing in public health units as recommended by the World Bank and IMF experts, the citizens were conveniently delivered to the open mouths of sharks. Slowly, but steadily, private health units multiplied like mushroom sprouts. And the proliferation of private hospitals and health units came along with other complications.

For instance, many doctors became money-minded and abdicated their responsibilities to the patients in public hospitals. Most of the major private hospitals in Kampala have their core staff poached from Mulago hospital. Oftentimes when you visit these hospitals, they would tell you: "Sorry, the specialist hasn't arrived from Mulago."

But more importantly, also when the state freed itself from providing free medical services to the citizens, an army of quacks emerged in the medical profession. They are not quacks because they don't have the skills; no, they are so because they have jettisoned ethics for money. And that is why now it is possible to get more diseases and ultimately die from your contacts with the medical personnel.

I am also tempted to believe the Medical and Dental Practitioners Council is not doing its work. Even the remaining standards have fallen lower. I have been having a medical complication for some time and I have visited a number of medical facilities and done several tests. In one of the facilities, I had to keep changing the appointments because the specialist only came on particular days.

They couldn't find someone who could handle my case. And even when I did the tests, nothing was found. I was given muscle relaxers and advised to contact another private clinic for specialized investigations. Still, I was referred to another kindred spirit. That meant paying more money. The problem persisted. Up to now I have not known what the problem is.

Many people have been given wrong prescriptions which have had devastating effects to their lives and when the problem is discovered, the doctors are not humble enough to say 'sorry' and make good on their mistakes. The desperate patients are the most vulnerable. Like some financial gurus said, it is wrong to shop when you are hungry; it seems to be true with visiting a doctor when you are desperate.

The medical council needs to rescue us from the quacks. What is the point of dying in hospital when you could have died in the comfort of your relatives' hands, at home?

The author is the Business Development Director, The Observer Media Ltd.

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