The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has written to the government to address low staffing levels and lack of necessary equipment in regional referral hospitals across the country.
The UMA Secretary General, Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, says corruption accusations, low morale, poor staffing, low budgets and increasing demand for medicine and facilities with little response from government are undermining efforts in the health sector.
He says even the recent much hailed operation to separate Siamese twins by medics at Soroti Hospital was achieved under miraculous circumstances, considering that the facility operates in dire conditions.
Soroti hospital registered a historic surgery on March 26, 2021 after successfully separating a conjoined living twin from his dead sister.
Dr Muhereza says the hospital lacks a High Dependence Unit (HDU) where patients in critical condition are monitored from in addition to not having enough staff.
The medic illustrates the dire situation saying that for doctors in Soroti to get a CT scan to be able to diagnose an infection or guide procedures such as surgery, their patients have to move to Mbale district to get the service in a private health facility.
Ministry of Health figures show an average of 500 doctors graduate and are joined by 150 specialists each year.
According to the set procedures, each of the district hospitals should have five specialists, a pediatrician, a surgeon, an internal medicine specialist, a public health specialist and an obstetrician and gynecologist.
But, on UMA’s recent tour of the hospitals, they barely found a hospital that meets that requirement, Dr Muhereza reveals.
UMA president Dr Richard Idro confirms that they visited 14 regional referral hospitals.
“We found Arua Regional Referral Hospital had only nine of the expected 41 doctors. Positions for 32 doctors at different grades were vacant. For a referral hospital situated in a growing city and which serves the whole of the West Nile region with a population of more than 3.5 million people”.
“The hospital did not have a single radiologist, anesthesiologist, orthopedic surgeon, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, or neurosurgeon to handle critical emergencies or heart, cancer, kidney, and diabetic specialists”, Dr Idro reveals.
He says such regional referral hospitals as Lira and Moroto are even in a worse state with only two specialists each.
In other regional referral hospitals such as Masaka and Kabale, they discovered that the wage bill was so inadequate that the hospitals are unable to employ additional staff or promote the available qualified staff.
With such challenges, Dr Muhereza says some health workers have been demoralised adding that many doctors have complained to the association that for one to be deployed they need to part with lots of money to facilitate officials in the district and the Health Service Commission.
Medics want the government to not only fill the gaps in hospitals urgently but also ensure that districts have competent District Health Officers (DHOs) to offer technical support.
Dr Muhereza notes that only 79 districts have DHOs. Some districts he says are manned by a non-medical officer. To him, this anomaly can be corrected quickly in less than six months.