Monday, May 14, 2007

Uganda: Pour Oil Money Into Health Care

This in one of my articles here.

Pour Oil Money Into Health Care The Monitor (Kampala) COLUMN8 May 2007 Posted to the web 8 May 2007 By Moses Sserwanga
The death of Brigadier Noble Mayombo, a personal friend who together with his elder brother, Phillip Winyi, used to call me their "brother" has once again exposed the constitutional challenges reflected in the country's failing health system.
The Constitution of Uganda imposes a legal duty on the government to provide adequate health care for all Ugandans. This constitutional requirement is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s principles that allow for the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as one of the fundamental rights of every human being.
Public health care, therefore, is concerned with promoting and protecting health which includes physical, mental and social wellbeing. It is also about preventing or reducing morbidity and premature death. A fundamental, yet often unstated assumption is that public health seeks the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
It can be argued that with better health services/care, perhaps, Mayombo one of the country's bright stars would not have passed on at the prime age of 42 which is well below the national life expectancy averaging at 46 years.
Mayombo was one of many national leaders and very important persons (VIPs) who died after being rushed out of the country to receive emergency medical attention.
The last ditch trips to 'save life' in foreign countries, place a huge cost on the country.
Such trips also affect the lives of the patients who are flown out while in a critical condition. Mayombo's friends tried to mobilise Shs110 million to fly him for specialised treatment in Tel Aviv Israel but it was too little to late.
On the other hand, Cuba's aging leader, Fidel Castro, was last week reported back to work after spending close to a year in an intensive care unit. Had it been Uganda, the old man would have passed on long time ago. Paradoxically, Cuba is among the least developed countries in the world but it has invested heavily in public health care.
There is also the issue of affordability. How many Ugandans can raise the colossal sums of money to have their beloved ones accorded first class medical services abroad?
According to the 2005/06 national household survey carried out by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 31 percent of the population live on less than a dollar per day, which is about 8.4 million people, most of whom live in rural areas.
With the majority of Ugandans living below the poverty line many die at an early age and of diseases which are curable if we had a better functioning health care system.
Millions of Ugandans still walk long distances to get to the nearest health centres; which are manned by semi-skilled health workers, poorly funded, with no medicine and equipment to save lives.
The high levels of corruption do not help matters. Most of the money that would be invested in the public health sector is misappropriated by bureaucrats. And the survival of the sick, the hapless, the less privileged is then left to the mercy of God.
The government cannot offer a good pay package for skilled labour. As a result, Uganda continues to suffer a huge brain drain with many highly skilled Ugandan doctors/ specialists opting to work abroad some in hospitals just across the border in Kenya.
It is a shame that since independence Uganda can boast of only one national government referral hospital at Mulago. The Commonwealth heads of government Meeting (Chogm) is just around the corner but is the country ready to offer adequate health care to the delegates in situations of emergency. Or we shall still have to fly our guests to Nairobi for treatment.
Private health care providers like International Hospital Kampala (IHK) and the recently opened Paragon Hospital in Bugolobi should be commended for filling in the gaps. It's only recently that the second open heart surgery to be registered in the country was carried out at IHK.
However, the government should not cede its constitutional responsibility of providing good health care for the citizens to the private sector which charges high fees for health services. The government should use revenues collected from our national resources like oil to fund among others the construction of modern hospitals in all regions, equip them with modern facilities and employ skilled personnel who are paid well. This is also the reason why Ugandans pay taxes .May the soul of Mayombo rest in eternal peace.
Next week: Government should criminalise torture.
The writer is a Journalist and Advocate

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