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Uganda's healthcare system needs immediate revival

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Added 25th April 2016 03:07 PM

“Watching people die because of electricity was so painful,” says a local journalist.

Uganda's healthcare system needs immediate revival

A drug store at a health centre. Some health facilities run out of drugs, leaving patients untreated

“Watching people die because of electricity was so painful,” says a local journalist.


By Esther Namirimu

Uganda's healthcare system has been in coma for a long time, but nothing much has been done about it.

A few weeks ago there was a campaign dubbed #SaveMulago but truth is that it is not only Mulago National Referral Hospital that needs saving and revival, but the Ugandan health sector as a whole.

Ugandans have developed a culture of fundraising money to send the lucky few abroad for treatment (I am not against it) but what happens to the poor Ugandan who has no relatives to mobilise for funds?

On 22nd April, Mulago Hospital was in a total blackout for close to four hours. There was no generator to save the situation and patients were receiving treatment on torches. But how can a national referral hospital not have a standby generator?

Bahati Remmy, a Ugandan journalist working with a local TV station, said: "In that period of a blackout, three patients breathed their last because machines could not work without power. The nurses on duty for the night shift tried their best to save the patients but in vain."

"Watching people die because of electricity was so painful," she said.

Mulago has also been in the news over the death of the only cancer radiotherapy machine in the country.

In the maternity wards, only the lucky expectant mothers are on beds. The rest are on the floor. It appears only the unfortunate and desperate must go there.

Recently, Bake Robert Tumuhaise, the managing director of World of Inspiration, rushed a patient in an emergency situation to Nsambya Hospital but to his disappointment, he found no health worker on duty to help.

By 8:00am local time, the only source of medicine in the hospital was still locked. Bakke had to drive around Kampala city looking for painkillers for the patient and by the time doctors came, it was too late.

 At a local dispensary

Lilian Mworeko is the executive director of International Community of Women Living with HIV in East Africa (ICWEA). She said that everyone's role is important to push for better health services.

"In March, my sister got an accident and crushed her leg. I was called when I was reaching Kalerwe and told them to rush to Mulago. I reached before them and decided to get hold of a wheelchair and they needed security so I had to deposit my phone.

"When they arrived we noticed she was in bad shape and we needed a stretcher but there was none. I was given one belonging to the UPDF by a Red Cross lady who sympathised with us. However it was too small and there was nobody to help and my sister was continuously having complications with breathing as we negotiated and looked around for help," said Mworeko.

"Knowing that we would continue with similar problems of no bed and doctors and likely lose a life, we decided to go to Nakasero Hospital where after one night we had spent sh1.2m but a life was saved.  We could not stay any longer as we were told we needed about sh10m for the doctor only."

Meanwhile, Joshua Wamboga, executive director of the Uganda Network of AIDS Organisations (UNASO) said that in November 2015, more than 750,000 patients on HIV/AIDS treatment were affected by a stock-out of drug combinations in government health facilities.

This led the patients to develop adverse side-effects after being switched to new combinations. Fortunately Global Fund saved the situation by frontloading the drug supplies. However what will they have when the drugs are finished?

Eva Namazzi says that she was rushed to Naguru General Hospital - also known as China-Uganda Friendship Hospital Naguru - when she had labour pains. She waited for two days but the health worker on duty did not help her.

Fortunately another nurse who came in later for night duty analysed her situation and called for an ambulance which rushed her to Mulago Hospital where she gave birth Caesarean section because she was too tired to push the baby.

About 6,000 women in Uganda die every year during childbirth, and a woman stands a one-in-13 chance of dying while giving birth within her lifetime.

Only 59% of births between 2006 and 2011 were delivered by a doctor or nurse/midwife, and only 57% were delivered in a health facility, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011.

Health sector civil society organisations have been campaigning for government to consider doubling the annual budget for HIV/AIDS and TB drugs from the current sh90 billion to sh180 billion to avert the current shortage.

Government should motivate health workers by increasing their salary.  There's also need to equip health centers with new and up-to-date health equipment, stock health centers with drugs to save on the money spent taking patients abroad for treatment.

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