By Bobi Wine
We have been keenly observing the nationwide Industrial Action by public health workers that was started by medical interns on 6th November and later joined by senior doctors on 21st November. The health workers are protesting Government’s failure to honor promises it has been making over the years to provide them with adequate medical supplies; improve their welfare and working conditions; and employ idle doctors in the several unfilled vacancies.
It is unfair that despite attending to more than 70% of the patients who report to National Referral Hospitals and other public health facilities for treatment; and despite working day and night for nearly the entire week, the interns are paid a gross salary of only Shs 750,000/= to cater for their transport, meals, accommodation and general upkeep. The failure to provide medical insurance for health workers, exacerbated by the perennial lack of personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies has seen over 50 frontline health workers succumbing to COVID19. These exploitative conditions in which our health workers are forced to operate endanger the very lives they are expected to protect, and expose them to professional negligence claims.
In June this year, Government officials met with the leadership of the Medical Interns to chat about a way forward. It made several commitments to them including that it would pay at least Shs 1,500,000/= (for graduate nurses); Shs 2,000,000/= (for graduate pharmacists); and Shs 2,500,000/= (for graduate medical doctors) effective 1st July. It reneged on these promises at the last hour. When the interns laid down their tools in early November, the Government reacted by making more promises to them, which it also went on to break in just a matter of days.
Officials thereafter resorted to staging publicity stunts in upcountry hospitals to create an impression that it is “greedy” health workers in Kampala who are protesting. When that did not achieve the desired effect of manipulating them back to work, Government threatened to fire the health workers. Over the weekend, it made good on the threats by firing all the striking medical interns “to pave way” for a new cohort that will not report to hospitals until February 2022! With insufferable arrogance, the Director General Health Services went on to “advise” the ‘fired’ interns to “find their own way” of completing internship, well-knowing that they will never be licensed to practice without completing the government-operated internship scheme.
The purported sacking of health workers engaged in constitutionally-protected industrial action is manifestly illegal and high handed. Without a doubt, it is an intimidation tactic calculated to silence debate about the unhealthy state of our public health facilities, and the indecent working conditions of the selfless health professionals who run them. It must be resisted.
On behalf of the National Unity Platform, and on my own behalf, I assure health workers across the country that we stand in solidarity with you. We unreservedly support your patriotic quest to improve the state of our national health facilities as well as those who work or seek treatment from there.
I wish to also remind the nation that one of the core pledges we have made as the National Unity Platform is to revamp the health care sector completely. The money General Museveni’s regime spends on corruption and excessive spending can definitely improve social services so that our people live better lives.
For God and My Country
KYAGULANYI SSENTAMU ROBERT