Following public criticism over a proposal by government to hire doctors from Cuba to fill in gaps of Uganda’s striking doctors, the Ministry of Health has backed down on the plan.
The pronouncement was made by Sarah Opendi, the State Minister for Health for General Duties, who had appeared before the Parliament Committee on Health, where MPs demanded explanations on the matter.
This followed media reports that Government had embarked on plans to hire doctors from Cuba, a proposal that met stiff resistance from the public with Ugandans wondering why the same Government agreed to send doctors to Trinidad and Tobago and turn around to hire foreign doctors.
“The issue of hiring doctors from Cuba was mooted at the time the doctors were on strike. We don’t have anything concrete. It was just a discussion,” Opendi said.
The Minister also informed Parliament that the striking doctors will have to wait until next financial year before they receive the increased salary enhancements.
“We held a cabinet meeting on Monday where we received a report from the Salary Review Commission and cabinet discussed this paper and we asked the Committee to review the salaries and we shall meet on Saturday to conclude this matter. The issue of doctors’ salary increase will be for next financial year,” Opendi said.
But the statement attracted protests from MPs who wondered why Government isn’t tabling a supplementary budget to make sure the funds are available.
Opposition MPs also wondered why Government isn’t treating concerns raised by doctors as an emergency, yet history indicates the same Government has processed supplementary budgets for non- emergency matters.
However, Opendi defended the Ministry’s position arguing: “It isn’t small money. You can’t bring a supplementary budget of trillions. You can’t increase salary in piecemeal because another group will go on strike.”
While giving an update on her counterpart Joyce Moriku, who is fighting for her life at International Hospital Kampala (IHK), Opendi denied accusations that the Ministry has failed to take care of its own. “It isn’t true we have failed to look after our own; we were only informed after the person was beyond them,” she said.
Opendi narrated Moriku’s ordeal revealing that: “the Minister first checked into Mulago Hospital where she was managed and discharged, but after sometime, she went on her own to Platinum and she was about to be discharged, that is when she developed complications and was transferred to IHK.”
“It was at IHK that her condition deteriorated at the intensive care unit. The doctors advised that because of her condition, she can’t be flown to far places and the only available places are Nairobi and South Africa,” Minister Opendi.
She also revealed that government had to provide US$7000 (Shs25.4m) as upfront to the doctors meant to fly with Moriku.
But the Ministry was hit with yet another blow after officials at Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi informed Government that the only available bed had been occupied.
Meanwhile, Opendi said a new plan indicates medics who aren’t housed will receive Shs300, 000 in allowances each month.
She also threatened to arrest government officials who are illegally occupying doctors’ houses. This was after the doctors Association informed Parliament that RDC of Kiryandongo is occupying doctor’s house.