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Medics Attribute Low Staffing Levels in Referral Hospitals to Corruption

Mukuzi says doctors have approached the association with complaints that for one to be deployed they need to part with lots of money to facilitate officials in the district and the National Health Service commission.

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The Uganda Medical Association has asked the government to address the low staffing levels and lack of necessary equipment in regional referral hospitals across the country.

In an interview on Wednesday, the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) Dr Mukuzi Muhereza says that the milestone by medics at Soroti hospital to successfully separate a Siamese twin from a dead sister was achieved under miraculous circumstances considering that the facility operates in dire conditions.

He said the hospital lacks a mere High Dependence Unit (HDU) where patients in critical condition are monitored from in addition to not having enough staff. For people in Soroti who need a CT scan to be able to diagnose an infection or guide procedures such as surgery, Mukuzi says they have to move to another district Mbale to pay for the service in a private health entity.

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Mukuzi says doctors have approached the association with complaints that for one to be deployed they need to part with lots of money to facilitate officials in the district and the National Health Service commission.

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Ministry of Health figures show Uganda graduates an average of 500 doctors each year and some 150 specialists each year. According to the set procedures, each of the district hospitals should have five specialists, a paediatrician, a surgeon, an internal medicine specialist, a public health specialist and an obstetrician and gynecologist.

But, on their recent tour of the hospitals, they barely found a hospital that meets that requirement. UMA president Dr Richard Idro says they also visited the 14 regional referral hospitals.

“We found Arua Regional Referral Hospital had only 9 of the expected 41 doctors. Positions for 32 doctors at different grades were vacant. For a referral hospital situated in a growing city and which serves the whole of the West Nile region with a population of over 3.5 million people, the hospital did not have a single Radiologist, Anaesthesiologist, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Ear Nose and Throat Specialist, or Neurosurgeon to handle critical emergencies or heart, cancer, kidney, and diabetic specialists”, he adds that some Regional Referral hospitals such as Lira and Moroto were even in a worse state with only two specialists each.

In others such as Masaka and Kabale Regional Referral hospitals, the doctors report in their open letter that the wage bill was so inadequate that the hospitals are unable to employ additional staff or promote the available qualified staff.

With such challenges, Mukuzi says some health workers have been demoralized to unemployment by majorly the recruitment process. 

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But, while all blame is on the health service commission, Prof. Pious Okong the chairperson of the commission says they have failed to attract specialists to district hospitals because then they will not be promoted. 

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Okong explained that whenever they advertise for recruitment they receive an overwhelming number of people and yet can’t deploy all of them because of the small resource envelope. As a result, he said in an earlier interview they had to introduce a transparent online test that can’t be manipulated to favour others against their colleagues. 

The results of this aptitude test are captured immediately after the exam and they disappear which he says makes it difficult to be interfered with. 

The medics want the government to not only fill the gaps in hospitals urgently but also ensure that districts have competent District Health Officers (DHOs) to offer technical support. Mukuzi notes that only 79 districts have DHOs. Some districts he says are manned by DHOs that is a non-medical officer.  To him, this anomaly can be corrected quickly in less than six months.    

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