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Hospitals now empty as doctor strike proceeds

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Ugandan doctors have finally solved the problem of hospital congestion. One week the wards were overflowing; the next week, they were virtually empty. Just like that!

The doctors simply stayed away from the hospitals and the patients started leaving, at first one by one, then it became a steady flow, and finally a stampede. Now if you want 10 beds to yourself, you can get them in any hospital ward.

One vernacular TV station went to sample the situation at the hospitals a week after the doctors went on strike over low pay and then brought a grotesque scene to our living rooms.

There was this lone figure in a ward of many beds, a fellow wasting away. Then the commentator asks the barely conscious fellow why he hadn’t fled the ward like everybody else.

An eerie voice answered in a mixed tone of desperation and stubbornness, “Whatever happens, I have nowhere to go!” Uncouth as the reportage may have been, it summed up the situation; only the unconscious and those with no option failed to leave the hospitals.

This followed the decision by the country’s doctors to proceed with the industrial action they had been threatening for so long over low pay.

Apparently, the Ugandan medical doctor’s starting salary is about $200 a month, less than half of that in countries at comparable levels of development like Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. But the strike was an original idea, and now every other professional group in the country is threatening industrial action.

Actually, the doctors cannot entirely take the credit for the decongestion of public hospitals. It is our mighty leaders who should be praised for this trailblazing. These powerful men and women started deserting the Ugandan hospitals much earlier, taking all their health issues ranging from cancer and kidney treatment to lifting of sagging breasts and posteriors overseas for fixing. It is even claimed that they use a third of public health expenditure on these trips.

But this is not such a big sin because the hole they dig with their medical tourism is filled up by the United States government, which pumps half a billion dollars into our health system every year. Yes, you heard me correctly: Half a billion dollars!

So the big men and women don’t have to worry if they take some $300 million a year for their medical tourism and forget to pay the local doctors a meaningful salary.

And don’t blame the VIPs for their innovation, it was inspired by those unethical nurses who were making patients share beds and making others lie on the floor in the full wards.

After several fellow VIPs were made to lie on their bedding on the ward floors, they must have decided that enough was enough, and started siphoning off a few hundred million dollars a year for their treatment abroad. So when the full analysis is made, the final credit for decongesting the hospitals could go to the nurses who made some VIPs share a bed with unwashed tramps.

Finally, the decongestion strategy is freeing our national referral hospital for what it was meant to be. No more commoners going to Mulago for a mere jab to treat malaria, because there is nobody to give you the jab. African solutions for African problems.

The author Joachim Buwembo,  is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: buwembo@gmail.com

THE EAST AFRICAN

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