Friday, February 6, 2015

Civil society opposes health workers’ export

WRA Uganda's Robina Biteyi News Interview with Amuka na BBC. Full Swahili bulletin here

By Alfred Wandera & Esther Bulyaba

A coalition of civil society organisations has added its voice to the criticism against Government’s move to export about 300 health workers to Trinidad and Tobago.

Addressing a joint press conference Thursday in Ntinda at Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) offices, the health activists demanded that Government stops defying its own evidence and substantially increases investment in the health sector.

The activists’ protestation comes barely a week after the Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a local think-tank, sued Government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical "brain drain".

“Government should be ashamed. They are supporting the export of our most prized resource – our health workers – who are in scarce supply in the health system and are a national treasure,” said Sam Senfuka of White Ribbon Alliance Uganda in a joint press statement.

“Export should only be considered if a country has surplus; that is basic economics. We have thoroughly analyzed this plan and it is wrong headed and must be stopped,” added Senfuka.

Joshua Wamboga, the Executive Director of Uganda Alliance of Patients Organization (UAPO), said the implementation of the plan would increase suffering and preventable death in Uganda especially among pregnant women, newborns, HIV victims, tuberculosis and malaria victims and other leading causes of preventable death. 

“Government should be increasing health workers’ remuneration, improving working conditions and increasing the wage bill so that our clinics are finally saturated with motivated health workers. Instead, our duty bearers are defying their own evidence and want to actively support health workers to leave. We will not allow this to happen,”     said Wamboga.

Wamboga explained that their preliminary analysis of the Government plan indicates that any remittance generated by health workers exported overseas would fail to compensate for the economic costs associated with catastrophic illness and increased rates of death.

Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union (UNMU) president, Janet Obuni, said Uganda has failed to live upto the Abuja Declaration’s call for African states to allocate 15% of their national budgets to the health sector, leaving the sector in a sorry state.

“Uganda’s health budget is between 8 and 9% of the total national budget, which is way below the Abuja Declaration standard. We have a heavy disease burden but government is not investing in the health sector. Uganda’s current doctor to patient ratio is 1:15, 000; nurses to patient is 1:7, 000 and midwive to patient ratio is 1:9,000. This is against the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) required ratio of one doctor to 1500 patients, one nurse to 700 patients and one midwife to 1000 patients,” said Obuni.

Claire Mugisha, AGHA Advocacy Programme Officer, said the current national estimate of the quantity of health workers stands at 40,67 nurses and midwives and 4, 449 doctors, serving a total population of 35 million Ugandans.

Joyce Lucy Atim, UNMU national treasurer, claimed that some of the people listed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website are not qualified health workers, arguing that they were recruited following influence from their relatives and friends in the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.

Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, Dr. Asuman Lukwago, said the reason why Government decided to use the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to recruit health workers for export to Trinidad and Tobago is because it is foreign relations 

However, Lukwago said the Ministry of Health was involved in the selection process through the Health Service Commission.

“Those questioning the credibility of the shortlisted health workers have no competence and authority to do so. They can only come out to speak about it after consulting us,” said Lukwago.

He added that the decision to export health workers is aimed at arresting the scenario where most of them have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to cross to overseas in search for green pastures.

“We don’t know how many health workers have died in the sea trying to cross to Europe and other developed countries. What government did was a formalization to make sure that things work out for them legally instead of them risking their lives,” said Lukwago. 

Source, New Vision:

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