Kampala — The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has scoffed at government's deal with the Cuban government to bring into the country more than 200 doctors, saying there is no shortage of doctors in Uganda.
The deal, according to a highly placed source in the Ministry of Health, was sealed through a memorandum of understanding signed on behalf of government by the Health minister, Dr Jane Aceng, who led a delegation to Havana, Cuba, early this year.
The government delegation included the Health Service Commission chairman, Prof Pius Okong, deputy secretary to the Treasury Patrick Ocailap, director Christopher Gashirabake from the Solicitor General's Office, and deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana.
Daily Monitor broke a story of government's plans to import 200 Cuban doctors at the height of the doctors' strike which paralysed health services for about three weeks in November last year. The strike was staged to press government for better pay and working conditions.
Responding to a text message yesterday, Dr Aceng said they expect about 40 specialists in the first batch but declined to say when they would arrive.
The UMA general secretary, Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, yesterday said Uganda does not have a shortage of specialist doctors as is being peddled by government.
"We want also state clearly that there is no shortage of doctors in Uganda, not even shortage of specialists. Go and check with the registrar. What is not there is money to attract them, maintain them in upcountry stations," Dr Muhereza said.
"UMA welcomes the Cuba colleagues, but they will find there are no tools to use, no drugs to dispense and they will join us in the strike," he added.
Dr Muhereza said Ugandan doctors work with inadequate medical equipment and supplies, something that has pushed some of their counterparts to seek better employment abroad.
But State minister for Health Sarah Opendi yesterday said no funds have yet been allocated for the doctors.
In an interview on Monday, Public Service minister Muruli Mukasa said the 200 Cuban doctors were being brought in to boost the few specialists, especially at upcountry stations shunned by local doctors.
He said government will pay each Cuban doctor about $1,500 (about Shs5.4m) per month, yet a local senior consultant doctor will get Shs4.5m per month. Data from the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council indicate there are 5,226 doctors in Uganda, with 3,000 of the doctors and dentists licensed to practice.
Official records show that the government, as of July last year, had 1,477 doctors on its payroll, but the annual health sector performance report for Financial Year 2015/2016 indicated that there 1,109 vacant positions for medical doctors with filled staff level standing at 49 per cent.
The report cited shortage of essential cadres, including theatre assistants doctors, pharmacists, dispensers and anesthetic officers.
By yesterday, it was unclear what specific medical specialist's government intended to import although last year, Dr Aceng said the Cuban doctors would mainly complement the few local consultants in training and supervising intern doctors across the country.
But Dr Muhereza accused government of double standards after it froze recruitment in all government departments, ministries and agencies yet it is striking a deal to bring in foreign doctors.
"There is a clear Ministry of Finance circular barring new recruitments in the coming financial year, but now we hear of 200 expensive recruits moreover from a Spanish speaking country, so we have to recruit 200 translators," Mr Muhereza added.
The chairperson of the Health Parliamentary Committee, Dr Micheal Bukenya, yesterday told this newspaper the committee is yet to discuss the matter of recruiting Cuban doctors.
"We have not discussed the matter because Ms Opendi did not have a formal document on the matter. She promised to bring a report and that is when we shall discuss the matter," Dr Bukenya said.
He said some members of the committee were opposed to importing foreign doctors.