Kampala — The closure of Makerere University has crippled medical services at Mulago hospital and the subordinate hospitals in the city divisions, leaving hundreds of patients stranded in wards.
Last week, President Museveni ordered the closure of Makerere University after days of a lecturers' strike which was later joined by students, paralyzing activities at the country's oldest university.
Following the closure, hundreds of medical students and their lecturers at Makerere Medical School accordingly withdrew from Mulago Hospital, where they had been treating or handling patients as part of the medical studies.
The medical students and their lecturers constituted a huge part of the medical staff strength at both Mulago and the subordinate hospitals of Kawempe, Kiruddu and other Kampala Capital City Authority health centres.
The medical students from the subordinate hospitals and health centres in the city divisions replicated the action of their counterparts at Mulago Hospital and withdrew their services in the wards, triggering a similar paralysis of work at the health facilities.
Mr Enock Kusasira, the Mulago hospital spokesperson, said more than 300 medical students under the category of Senior House Officers (SHO) who are qualified doctors and are post-graduate medical students together with more than 200 lecturers, withdrew from Mulago and the affiliated hospitals.
"We are just trying to improvise with our staff who are available but of course we have been inconvenienced. There are delays in delivery of services especially the waiting time by patients before they are attended to by the health workers," Mr Kusasira said.
However, he could not explain how the hospital is improvising; whether they are hiring part-time medical workers or giving the available staff additional payment for extra services.
When Daily Monitor visited Mulago hospital yesterday, health workers from the Allied Institute of Health Workers had been called and were beefing up the available medical staff in some wards especially the Casualty Ward. Other doctors were seen registering new patients, a role usually done by the medical students and other support medical staff.
"I am still waiting for the doctor to attend to me. It's over an hour now," an accident victim in the Casualty Ward told Daily Monitor. He seemed ignorant of the medical staff crisis.
At the same ward, a doctor who refused to be named said: "At some point we have been forced to call back some students and volunteers especially during the night shifts."
At Kawempe hospital, one of the doctors who preferred anonymity said they were overwhelmed by the high turnout of patients due to the shortage of medical personnel.
"You find only one doctor delivering three mothers and they are the same people prescribing drugs," the doctor said, lamenting that the situation was proving unsustainable.
"Government has to address the issue of Makerere very fast so that the students return to the wards," he added.
Days after the closure of Makerere University, Education minister and First Lady Janet Museveni ordered the opening of the university's College of Health Sciences to allow post-graduate medical students and consultants continue with their work.
Her order, contained in a letter dated November 4, followed complaints by the beneficiary hospitals who had been affected by the shortage of staff after the withdrawal of the medical students and their lecturers.
"At the College of Health Sciences, the post-graduate students, medical doctors and consultants of Makerere University shall continue to work in the hospitals they have been deployed in as this provides the much needed human resource at the medical centres," Ms Museveni's directive reads in part.
However, the post-graduate medical students have insisted they would not return to the hospitals as they risk being attacked by other students.
They also accused government of exploitation and said it was a mockery for Ms Museveni to refer to them as human resource when they are not paid.
They said the minister's directive is not calling them to study but to provide free labour.
"We have resolved not to return to the wards until the university is open because we are not different from other students,"Mr Solomon Kyazze, the president of the post-graduate medical students association, said.
An earlier meeting between the medical students and the Principal of the College of Health Sciences, Prof Charles Ibingira, who pleaded with the medical students to return to work, did not yield any fruit.
The issues at hand
Withdraw. Hundreds of medical students and their lecturers at Makerere Medical School withdrew from Mulago Hospital where they had been treating or handling patients as part of the medical studies.
Accusation. The students accuse government of exploitation and said it was a mockery for Ms Museveni to refer to them as human resource when they are not paid.
Defiant. They have resolved not to return to the wards until the university is open, saying they are not different from other students.