19 March 2019

Ugandan Doctors Oppose Lubowa Hospital Project

Kampala — The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has asked the government to disengage from supporting a plan by a foreign investor to build an ultra-modern hospital in Lubowa, Wakiso District, raising a litany of concerns.

UMA is an umbrella organisation for Ugandan doctors. Its leaders yesterday alleged that the cost of the facility had been exaggerated and such resources should be invested in ongoing upgrade of Mulago National Referral Hospital, not erecting a new facility from the ground.

The new specialised hospital is to be constructed as a joint venture between FINASI/ROKO Construction Ltd, and Parliament last week passed a resolution committing the government to guarantee a $379.7m (Shs1.3 trillion) loan the investors pick for the project.

At a press conference in Kampala yesterday, the UMA president Dr Ekwaro Obuku, asked President Museveni to reconsider his position so that the public funds are directed to finish the renovation of Mulago hospital.

The renovation works began in 2015 to expand existing facilities at the hospital and create new ones to turn the national referral hospital into a specialised one to handle complex procedures such as transplant of internal organs.

The refurbishment has stalled because, according to Health ministry officials, the project required an additional Shs24 billion not considered in the original bill of quantity.

"The current stalling in the rehabilitation of Mulago is a matter of concern. We urge the government to prioritise mobilising the necessary funding to finalise the rehabilitation of Mulago Hospital ahead of Lubowa project," Dr Obuku said.

The Lubowa hospital is to be a one-stop medical hub for treating Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) for which many Ugandans with means, including government officials, seek treatment abroad.

UMA argued that it was pointless for government to guarantee a loan for a private investor, a decision for which Mr Museveni thanked MPs, yet it was delaying or failing to bankroll its own national referral hospital.

The association also argued that the services outlined to be provided at the private hospital will be a duplication of those to be offered at Mulago once the behind-the-schedule rehabilitation is completed.

Dr Gideon Rukundo, the head of Minimum Access Surgery Department, said many doctors that the government sent for specialised training abroad in preparation to work at upgraded Mulago National Referral Hospital remain under-utilised just like their peers deployed at the Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital currently operating at below capacity due to overpriced services.

Dr Frank Asiimwe, an urologist, said the cost for the planned Lubowa facility should be reviewed because the construction bill is five times higher for similar upgrade at the Mulago women's hospital.

We could not independently verify the claim and were unable to reach FINISA/ROKO Construction company officials for their version on the controversy.

Dr Obuku said lack of consultation of Ugandan medical professionals and private health sector entrepreneurs, undermines local talent.

It duplicates and outcompetes the demand for resources by crucial yet unfinished low-hanging fruit such as Mulago hospital complex," he added.

Dr Olive Kobusingye, member of the Association of Surgeons of Uganda, said government should instead upgrade decayed and ill-equipped regional referral hospitals.

Other specialists expressed similar misgivings.

Mr Sulaiman Lubega, a senior consultant cardiologist at the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI), said they are competent to handle heart conditions that drive Ugandans to seek treatment abroad, but delay in completion of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) had stalled live-saving procedures.

"The theater is operational but without the ICU, we can't do much. We need ventilators, invasive monitors, dialysis, infusion pumps, syringe pumps and 12 beds which will cost Shs2 billion and the proposal is with government," he said.

UHI already has an approved plan to build a $70 million, 200-bed hospital, which government has sat on for 7 years.

Dr Henry Ddungu, a consultant hematologist at UHI, they could undertake bone marrow and stem cell transplant if the government bankrolled unfunded priorities.

Govt say

The Health ministry senior spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, however, said the Lubowa project is expected to meet the Joint Commission International (JCI) standards and will attract patients from abroad.

JCI accreditation is the gold standard for global healthcare, according to information on its website. "The medical association does not have full information. Parliament only guaranteed a loan. We have not given the investor any money,"Mr Ainebyoona said.

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