WRITTEN BY PATIENCE AKUMU
Overworked and underpaid, health workers in Uganda have for decades fought hard to persuade the government to improve their working conditions. However, many of them have over the years given up the struggle, opting to join other professions and sectors, or staying in the medical field but giving half-hearted service, Workers MP Dr Sam Lyomoki has observed.
Speaking at a press conference organised by the Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation (UNHCO), Lyomoki said although the government may think it has beaten health workers into submission, this “go-slow” strike is even more dangerous than overt strikes, as uncommitted health workers can have a devastating effect.
UNHCO is a non-governmental organisation working to put pressure on Parliament not to pass the 2012/2013 health budget. Uganda is yet to meet the 15 per cent budget allocation required by the Abuja Declaration to which Uganda is signatory.
With a ratio of 1.8 health workers per 1,000 people, Uganda is also far below the World Health Organisation standard of at least 2.5 health workers per 1,000 people.
And yet, this financial year, the government slapped a ban on recruitment of health workers.
The government has also failed to retain health workers and many of them are seeking greener pastures outside the country. Health workers in Uganda remain the least paid in the East African region.
And with economic integration, Uganda is likely to lose even more health workers. Now, civil society has teamed up with parliamentarians and leaders in the health sector to demand that government recruits over 5,000 health workers this financial year, 2012/2013, if it is to meet the national health targets.
In particular, MPs have vowed not to pass the health budget until the 7.6 per cent allocation to the health sector is raised. This percentage is even lower than the 9.8 per cent of the previous financial year.
“We are not going to pass the budget because it affects us,” said Rosemary Nyakikongoro, vice chairperson of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association.
Dr Margaret Mungherera, a consultant with the Uganda Medical Workers Association, says health workers “have fought this battle for too long.”
“As the highest-paid doctor, I receive Shs 1.9m after taxes,” she said. “There is too much money spent on newspapers, entertainment and ‘travel outward’ — I wonder what that is,” Dr Mungherera said.
She said the solution to the health sector crisis is not putting up new structures and buying more medical equipment, but utilising the already existing ones. This, she said, can only be done by recruiting proper personnel.