Uganda’s health sector has been on the spot for a while now. The government proposed a budget cut to UGX 2.5 trillion, a huge reduction by UGX 258.29 billion (23.6%) for financial year 2021/2022 budget.
This comes around the same time when countries are reinforcing their health care systems and building capacity in response to the pandemic. There is also the issue of vaccine accessibility to the target populations an area in which we are lagging behind. With less than 2% of the population vaccinated and a new COVID-19 wave, now is definitely not the time for Uganda to cut the health budget.
In May, Nurses in Uganda launched a sit down strike over unpaid lunch allowances and in the same month medical interns countrywide also launched a sit down strike demanding better pay. For a country in which health workers are poorly paid, hospitals lack drugs and necessary diagnostic equipment, health workers are constantly exposed because of PPE shortage you would expect an increased funding of the sector.
On so many occasions health workers in public hospitals are forced to choose between letting patients die or digging into their pockets to buy medication. Same health workers may not even have received salary in months. In 2017 a study showed that health workers in Uganda had gone on strike 20 times between 2012 and 2017 citing poor pay and working conditions.
When health workers are disgruntled, under paid and overworked, the patients are left vulnerable.
You would think that like other countries we would learn from this pandemic that literally put the world to its knees, but no. Uganda continues to spend billions in security, baseless allowances for members of parliament but when health workers demand for a pay raise then “There is no money to cater for that.”
As a country we need to recognize that any cut in the budget presents a class issue. Many families in Uganda live below the extreme poverty line and therefore can’t afford private health care. And likewise a budget cut means services that are offered in public health centers will be limited or if present will not meet quality standards.
Just yesterday the Daily monitor reported that 10 people succumbed to COVID at Soroti Regional referral over the past month over lack of Oxygen. Last year a consultant gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Charles Kiggundu was failed by the very system he served in when he couldn’t find a bed in ICU and succumbed to COVID-19. In many hospitals patients continue to die of treatable causes and live with life long complications of the same.
The increased cases of death by suicide during lockdown and months that followed should be a wake up call to invest in Mental health. Many young people are dealing with addictions, mental illness, women and girls dealing with postpartum psychosis and trauma due to SGBV and yet mental health care is ridiculously expensive.
Last year while I worked in Amuru, with the COVID-19 response team in Elegu, the district had no ambulance and pregnant women had to cycle or walk long distances to health centers.
With such gaps in our health care system, now is definitely not the time to slash the health budget. Cutting the health budget is too costly and at the end of the day it’s ordinary Ugandans that will be negatively impacted by dysfunctional health care delivery.
This week’s #winterABC2021 challenge is on Advocacy and I thought I’d get this off my chest. Feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
Bellows of love
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