By Moses Walubiri and Mary Karugaba
KAMPALA - The sorry state of the country’s health care system took center stage on Friday as the House paid tribute to Buhweju woman MP Joy Arinaitwe Kariisa, who succumbed to a malignant tumor at Nakasero Hospital on Wednesday, aged 28.
Reminiscing on the life of the youthful legislator whose spirited battle with cancer saw her twice undergo operations in India in a space of one year, MPs across the political spectrum called upon government to revamp the health sector “as a perfect tribute to Kariisa.”
Late Joy Kariisa's husband and their children at parliament. PHOTO/Enock Kakande
MPs Wamai Wamanga, Betty Aol, David Bahati, Jalia Bintu and Latif Ssebagala noted that the funds government expends on treating high-end citizens in state-of-the-art hospitals abroad can come in handy to equip referral hospitals to handle complicated medical cases like the one that scythed Kariisa.
“To fix our health system is very possible,” Bahati said, adding: “The best way we can honor Joy is by fixing our referral hospitals in Mbarara, Gulu, Mbale and Jinja to be able to handle complicated cases like the one that cut her life so short.”
Earlier, Ssebagala and Aol had noted that many Ugandans, including those with little means, are referred to India for specialized treatment yet the country can save resources in the long run if such facilities are established through massive capital outlay on the health sector.
MPs Michael Maranga and Stephen Tashobya who visited the fallen MP while recuperating after one of the operations talked of stumbling upon a host of ailing Ugandans in the same hospital, whose relatives back home were frantically “fundraising” for them to be operated.
MPs paid their last respects to their fallen colleague. PHOTO/Enock Kakande
MPs and cabinet ministers are the biggest beneficiaries of the Medical Board which sanctions referrals abroad for specialized treatment, with Disaster Preparedness minister Hillary Onek undergoing treatment in India early this year.
In his motion for the House to pay tribute to Kariisa, Second Deputy Prime Minister Moses Ali described her as “a humble, diligent and patriotic soul whose promising political career has been cut short” – a refrain that was echoed by many MPs.
“The sun has set on her life so soon, but we cannot appeal God’s judgment,” Ali said.
Highlighting Kariisa’s enduring character – meekness – Bahati, who is the chairperson of parliament’s Christian fellowship quoted Psalms 90:12 which reads: “Lord, teach us to number our days so that we can be wise.”
“Joy numbered her days by being humble,” Bahati said in a brief, but moving eulogy that brought some of the fallen MP’s relatives perched in the gallery to tears.
Kariisa was described by Flavia Kabahenda and Ephraim Biraro as a committed advocate of maternal health issues who was bent on fighting household poverty in her constituency.
Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah said “this year has not been a particularly good one for this House.”
Kariisa's death, whose burial will take place on Sunday in Buhweju, brings to four the number of MPs who have passed on in the ninth parliament.