Ugandan doctors have expressed dismay at government's move to offer support to a private investor to construct a specialised hospital at the expense of neglecting local hospitals.
Dr Ekwaro Obuku the president of Uganda Medical Association (UMA) said the doctors are "disturbed" that government has signed a contract with a consortium comprising of Finasi and ROKO Construction Company to construct a new specialized hospital in Lubowa by guaranteeing a loan worth $380 million (about Shs 1.4 trillion).
According to Obuku, it's even more disturbing because government, at the moment, has halted renovations of Mulago national referral hospital due to lack of funds.
"We note with deep concern that this is being done when the Mulago hospital rehabilitation has been suspended due to lack of funds equivalent to Shs 24bn," Obuku said.
Dr Obuku explained that the immediate impact of stalling of rehabilitation works at Mulago hospital is that, the Uganda Heart Institute capacity to treat patients has been severely constrained and the public and the staff left frustrated. Mulago sought for temporary shelter at the Uganda Heart Institute to allow for completion of rehabilitation works.
Dr Gideon Rukundo Rugari a senior surgeon at Mulago hospital observed that the Lubowa project is astronomically expensive at $1 million (Shs 3.7bn) per bed compared with similar hospitals, which average at $300,000 (Shs 1bn) per bed.
"The current stalling in the rehabilitation of Mulago national referral hospital is a matter for concern. We urge the government to prioritise mobilising the necessary funding to finalise the rehabilitation of Mulago ahead of the Lubowa project." Rukundo said.
The doctors also rejected government's justification for construction of the specialised hospital that Uganda spent $73m (Shs 270bn) on treatment of its officials abroad in 2014, saying that the figure is most likely erroneous, but also a lot of parameters have since changed and the figures dropped to $2.8 million (Shs 7bn) in 2016.
Dr Obuku said that the Ugandan doctors have no doubt that if Mulago and other government facilities are supported and are used by all Ugandans, the need for patients to go abroad will be remarkably reduced and patients from neighbouring countries will come to Uganda for treatment.
"We recommend that government reduces the cost of the Lubowa project and allocates funds saved, to these institutions including the private sector (credit)," he said.
Dr Obuku also advised the government to stay on course with Mulago hospital master plan because the hospital is a regional centre of excellence. He said Mulago trains very many doctors from many different countries and has for that reason earned a reputation as one of the leading medical facilities in Africa.
UMA is set to petition the government against the construction of the hospital in Lubowa with the view that effort should be put on pending projects before the government undertakes new ones. Dr Olive Kobusingye said the trained specialists at Mulago have the capability and capacity to handle some of these procedures for conditions, which take Ugandans abroad.
Obuku commended government for increasing the salary of doctors but said a lot more is needed to be done in terms of remuneration for specialists.
"We can't earn Shs 4.5 million when our counterparts in academia are earning Shs 9 million monthly. We need to be treated fairly and paid per qualifications." Obuku added.
According to Dr Obuku, Lira hospital, which is one of the main referral hospitals in Uganda, has suffered an of exodus of specialists into academia because it offers better opportunities in terms of pay. Rukundo said some specialists have already left the country in disgust and the future for this excellent institution is at stake.
"The same applies to the ambitious plans to start kidney transplant services for which staff have been trained but cannot start to put their training in practice due to the delays in completing the rehabilitation of Mulago national referral hospital," he said.
He also explained that this equally applies to other specialties such as laparoscopic surgery, hepato-billary surgery for which specialists have been trained and are eagerly waiting to apply their hard earned skills.