For years, Ugandan doctors have been dealing with an untenable situation. This month they finally said they’ve had enough.
Facing some of the lowest wages for doctors across the continent, a dire shortage of adequate medical supplies, and a government that claims they simply do not have the funds to improve the situation, medical professionals have been on strike since November 6 in protest.
In a country where up to 40% of health workers positions go unfilled, the ongoing strikes highlight the importance of a strong public health system. Without access to doctors at government-operated hospitals, Ugandans who cannot afford to use private facilities are being forced to seek treatment from traditional healers, or suffer through their ailments untreated.
Global Citizen has been campaigning to pressure the Ugandan government to provide greater access to maternal and child health by renewing legislation that would invest more money into healthcare. Providing health services to the most vulnerable members of communities across the world is in line with the mission of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and a priority for Global Citizen. You can take action on this issue below.
The Guardian reported that talks between the government and the Ugandan Medical Association (UMA) came to a stalemate last week. The government has labeled the strike as ‘illegal,’ and deployed doctors in the military to staff roles held by protesting doctors, according to the Guardian.
For their part, the UMA claims that the current state of public health care is woefully inadequate for doctors and patients alike.
Reuters reported that starting salaries for doctors in the country are about $300 per month, with senior level doctors making about three times that amount. Their report quoted a doctor who said that basic medical supplies like gloves, painkillers, and disinfectant were lacking in most public hospitals.
The World Health Organization reported that 52% of medical professionals Uganda are employed in the public health sector, though statistics surrounding the number of patients that utilize the public health system are not regularly recorded. A 2016 report they released showed positive trends in disease prevention and other key health indicators over the last few decades, but suggested broad reforms in access to healthcare were still needed for poor and rural Ugandans.
In a statement released Monday, UMA spokesman Dr. Fauz Kavuma said the minimum demands doctors are asking of the government include reforms to the State House Monitoring Unit, increased welfare and training for medical officers and intern doctors, and improved work allowances for those working in public health services.
Despite government claims that such reforms would be prohibitively expensive, members of the Ugandan Parliament were recently awarded one-off $8,000 payments to investigate the potential of amending their constitution to allow Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to run for a sixth-term. As of now, the constitution would prevent him from running in 2021 due to age limits.
The Ugandan Parliament said on November 20 that its Health Committee had compiled a report on the strike, and that the house would debate the issue and pass a resolution soon.