8 November 2017

Uganda: Doctors Strike - Mothers to Give Birth in the Open

Photo: The Observer
Patients stranded at Mulago hospital .

The medical workers' strike, which started yesterday immediately affected hundreds of patients in government hospitals with many either going unattended to or sent away by staff.

Uganda Medical Association members are protesting low salaries and shortages of essential supplies like gloves. An entry-level doctor earns about Shs 1.1 million while a senior doctor earns Shs 3.4 million. The group wants this increased to Shs 8.5 million and Shs 45 million, respectively.

The Observer visited two public hospitals around the city yesterday and found many patients stranded. At Mulago hospital's department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which is currently hosted at Kawempe, many pregnant women admitted the day before were asked to get out of the wards and advised to seek attention from private hospitals.

Those who had come ready to deliver simply camped outside the hospital with no sense of direction and no one to handle them.

"I will not leave this place for a private clinic. I will stay here and deliver from this compound. If I die, my death will be on government and its heartless health workers," Justine Namiro, an expectant mother, told The Observer yesterday.

Nursing assistants we talked to said they couldn't handle the situation alone and said it was better for the patients to leave.

"Look at all those women, some are about to deliver and we cannot keep them here because it is not safe; so, am I wrong if I tell them to leave the wards and find nearby private clinics?" a medical assistant said.

She said all senior doctors heeded the strike call and that the hospital remained manned by support staff, a few assistants, interns from abroad and those from Makerere University.

Gloria Aseru, who had a new baby boy a week ago, is worried about the child's health. She had come to seek medical guidance only to be told she couldn't find it there.

"They are just tossing me around from one empty office to another. What is wrong with our government? Why does it find money to fund age limit consultations and it can't find money to take care of its citizen's health?" Aseru said before breaking down in tears.

While some patients do not blame the doctors for the strike, they believe that they should have been more considerate.

"They, like you journalists and police officers, should not even think about striking because their work is a matter of life and death. When they strike, they sentence some people to death," a patient said.

By the time of our visit, there were allegations that two women had died due to lack of medical attention. The Observer couldn't independently verify this since the hospital administration was also away.

In the China-Uganda Friendship hospital at Naguru that was not so crowded, a few medical workers were on duty but they handpicked only patients deemed to be emergency cases to attend to.

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