12 November 2017

Uganda: Upcountry Medics Resume Work As City Counterparts Stay Away

Doctors across the country are presenting mixed responses to the directive that they resume work forthwith after the government declared their ongoing strike illegal.

The Health minister, Dr Ruth Aceng, who addressed a hastily organised emergency press conference at the ministry's headquarters, on Thursday had said all health workers who would follow the order would not be subjected to any disciplinary action.

In Kampala, the doctors have continued to stay away, with patients in critical condition at Kiruddu Hospital, where the internal medicine department of Mulago Hospital has temporarily shifted left, unattended.

President Museveni on Thursday night directed Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to roll call doctors and health workers on duty at all health facilities across the country starting today.

Positive response

And this directive seems to be working in health facilities upcountry, including in Mbarara, Mpigi, Kalangala, Lamwo, Nwoya and Hoima, with doctors and nurses turning up to attend to children, expectant mothers and emergency cases such as accidents.

But the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) president on Friday dismissed the directive, with their president Dr Ekwaro Obuku, saying: "Our legitimacy has been tested and the strike is still on until we meet the President on November 17."

By 9am on Saturday morning, Kiruddu Hospital's Ward 5A, where female patients with breathing difficulties are treated, had only a few patients with their caretakers fumbling with fixing nasal cannulas, something that is ordinarily done by nurses who were also nowhere to be seen.

"The doctor just came around last night to check on the patients and to administer drugs and left," one of the female patients said.

Another elderly woman in the same ward said: "Even when my daughter would need constant monitoring from the doctor, I have not seen any of them. Not even a nurse."

Only a few security personnel were seen moving around the wards, as cleaners at the hospital kept washing doors and windows of the locked pharmacies, laboratories and consultation rooms.

The waiting rooms for outpatients also remained empty as patients stayed away with no hope of seeing any doctor.

The hospital appeared abandoned. Only a handful of doctors were seen around the hospital's private wing where patients pay for services.

The same situation was seen at Mulago Hospital on Thursday evening with a handful of doctors and nurses attending to accident victims at the casualty ward. Other areas where out-patient clinics are conducted also remained locked with no attendants in sight.

Dr Obuku said UMA had asked the nearly 500 doctors countrywide not to withdraw all services completely, but retain emergency services given that the patients are their core responsibility.

But Dr Aceng insisted that all doctors and intern doctors must resume work at once. She also directed UMA officials to stop interfering with the association members willing to work.

Dr Aceng promised protection for doctors who get back to work, adding that intern doctors who fail to comply will have their internships terminated and will be required to reapply.

In an eight-point terse statement read at the press conference, Dr Aceng said the doctors never gave the formal 90-day notice required and also did not follow the public service procedure in declaring industrial action.

She says grievances about salary and working condition by public officials should have been channelled through the Public Service Negotiation and Consultation Council.

This, she says, is the guidance by the Solicitor General, the technical arm of the Attorney General, the government chief legal adviser.

Dr Aceng accepted that the doctors' concerns as "genuine".

Additional reporting by Cissy Makumbi, Felix Ainebyoona, Sadat Mbogo, Moses Muwulya,

HenryLubulwa, Francis Mugerwa, Ronald Seebe, Fred Wambede, Ezekiel Sekweyama , Emmanuel Ainebyoona & Abubaker Lubowa

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