Doctors re-echo calls to quadruple health budgets

By John Agaba

"Universal health insurance in Uganda has been a work in progress almost the last 30 years. Why can't we start?"


It is ‘minuted' in the minutes of Cabinet, that next year we (government) shall focus on health (financing).

That was what the honourable minister of health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said at a meeting at the Kampala Serena Hotel Wednesday to discus health financing in low and middle-income countries, where Uganda belongs.

But, after she uttered the statement, she paused to peer over the audience, which comprised of doctors, researchers, academicians, journalists et al, as if to verify whether her words had sunk in or had been dismissed as another set of rhetoric from a politician. It was the latter that the honourable minister perceived.

The researchers, doctors, and other health advocates inside the Katonga Hall looked on at the minister, expressionless: unmoved by her statement. For they had listened to related promises countless times, and each time they came close to believing, they had been disappointed.

The minister did not stop there. She reiterated that better health, which reached every Ugandan, was top of government's agenda. She said Government continued to prioritise maternal and child health, HIV and malaria care to improve the quality of life of Ugandans.

But, clearly, stakeholders wanted more than just words.

"Towards the end of last (financial) year, government said universal health coverage would start (with this financial year). They (health ministry) said they had received a certificate of financial implication (from finance ministry). But, up to now, nothing," said Dr. Ekwaro Obuku, tutor of systematic reviews at Makerere University and also secretary general of the Uganda Medical Association.

"Universal health insurance in Uganda has been a work in progress almost the last 30 years. Why can't we start?" the physician said.

With universal health coverage at least every Ugandan would be guaranteed of basic quality healthcare. 

But other participants shifted to monies allocated to the sector, re-echoing calls for health budgets to be greatly enhanced.

Prof Freddie Ssengooba from the Makerere College of Health Sciences and the director of the Speed project, which champions universal health coverage in the country, said government needed to increase current health expenditures almost four-fold.

"Government allocated about1.8b to health funding (this financial year). But if we are to provide quality maternal and child health care and give excellent HIV and malaria treatment, this money (1.8b) has to grow times four," the professor said.

Uganda signed the Abuja declaration that tasked treaty governments to spend 15% of their budgets on healthcare.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a healthy population is a wealthy nation, but government seemed to be neglecting healthcare financing to donors.

"We need to not over-rely on donors. We need to rise to the challenge and improve our health systems and treat our sick," said the professor.

Ssengooba also said the country needed to rise numbers of its health workforce from the current about 470,000 who are on payroll to almost double.

Dean at the Makerere University School of Public Health Prof William Bazeyo called government to prioritise health, saying almost all the sustainable development goals were linked to the discipline.

"We need to rally behind our ministry of health so that funding to the sector is prioritiised," said Bazeyo. ‚Äč