A Liberated Health Sector; Why Ugandans Should Commemorate 26th January.

Every year, the people of Uganda commemorate 26th January; the date in 1986 when the National Resistance Army (NRA) and National Resistance Movement (NRM) overthrew not only a mere draconian government but an entire bad history of Corruption, Civil Rights Abuses, Disease, Ignorance, Poverty, Insecurity, Electoral Malpractice, etc — thus ushering in the Fundamental Change. Therefore, the liberation day presents an opportunity to look into our past Political, Social and Economic history from a comparative angle with the present.

When NRA ascended to power, Uganda and Africa at large were battling with the triple evils; Ignorance, Disease and Poverty — as our enemies. Our people were dying from diseases which were preventable. Our children were dying from immunisable diseases like Polio and Measles simply because the past governments didn’t procure necessary medicines to save the lives of our children. It is good news to note however, that 33 years down the road, our children can grow up normal and polio free.

Whereas I would want to write about all three evils, for today I would love to specifically pick out Disease and thus pointing my attention to the Health Sector. Taking a look at Uganda’s Health Sector today, I can vividly assert that the Health Sector was surely Liberated on account of the many accomplishments reached in the past 33 years of NRM in power.

Before NRA captured power, the economic strife and insecurity created restlessness, health workers would hardly concentrate, creating a shaky health system, worsened by a shortage of development partners who fled Uganda in fear for their lives.

After NRM took power, normalcy was returned into the Health Sector; Primary Health Care (PHC) was operationalized. A number of community-based programs were launched including but not limited to Nutrition, Immunization, Reproductive health and Hygiene & Sanitation.

Today, the total number of Hospitals (public and private) in Uganda is 155. Of these 2 are National Referral Hospitals (Mulago and Butabika), 16 are Regional Referral Hospitals (RRHs) and 139 are General Hospitals (GHs), construction of 193 Health Centre IVs, 930 Heath Centre IIIs with each parish and sub county having a HCII and HCIII respectively, but most outstandingly, most of the not well to do facilities are under renovation with the most recent completed being Mulago National Referral Hospital.

There is also ongoing upgrade of 125 Health Centre IIs to IIIs and as well as renovation of 80 Health Centre IIIs to fully functionalize their maternity wards, laboratories and provide staff accommodation for critical staff..

We can’t disremember the most fresh salary increments for health workers, a Senior Consultant who previously earned Shs 3,447,065 now earns Shs 4,500,000, a Consultant who previously earned  Shs 3,059,079  now earns Shs 4,200,000, an enrolled nurse now earns Shs 613,158 from Shs 413,158  ,this has never happened in the History of this country!

In the 2018/2019 Financial Year, Shs 2.3 Trillion was allocated to the Health Budget from 1.8 Trillion in 2017/2018. Shs 276 Billion was allocated to the National Medical Stores (NMS) in the 2018/2019 budget much higher than Shs 230 Billion of 2017/2018 hence the current effective and efficient supply of essential medicines and medical supplies to health facilities across Uganda.

Recognizing the value of mothers towards developing our nation, government enhanced maternal health care by putting up a 320 bed Specialized Maternal and Neonatal Healthcare Unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital giving us hope that soon, Uganda will hardly register any maternal death cases.

Another tangible achievement is the much-celebrated cancer services. A Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine was installed at the Cancer Institute, the machine can treat up to 80 patients per day. A second cancer machine is expected soon at a cost of $3.5 Million (about Shs 13 Billion) which will treat upto 120 patients per day.

The quality of health services has unbelievably improved. In January 2018, Doctors at Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital conducted the first-ever highly specialized open-heart surgery known as Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) surgery which is a type of surgery that improves blood flow to the heart.

In October 2018, the President launched the “Presidential Fast-Tracking Initiative on the Elimination of HIV/AIDS” that targets total elimination of the scourge from the Ugandan society. Similarly, in July 2017, Ministry of Health introduced an oral HIV Self-test kit to complement the existing strategies in the fight against HIV.

While most of us have vehemently refused to protect ourselves from Non-communicable diseases, President Museveni in July 2018, launched the National Day of Physical Activity in a drive to promote healthy living among the population which is an added effort to disease prevention.

From Feb 2017 to March 2018, free mosquito nets were given to over 38 million Ugandans under the ‘Chase Malaria’ campaign. In 2015, 6,100 people died of malaria, which reduced to 5,700 in 2016. The death figures further reduced to 5,100 in 2017 and to a meagre 1,600 in the last nine months.  This represents a reduction from 15% to 7%.

In June 2018, the Government of Uganda rolled out Rotavirus vaccine into the Routine Immunization Schedule to protect children under five years of age from diarrhea. This is the 11th vaccine that is provided free to infants and children at all health facilities and selected community outreaches within the country.

In a nutshell, Ugandans should therefore not consider the conspicuous revolution in the Health Sector as activities happening by default but rather deliberate actions by the NRM government of President Museveni to improve health services.

Like it or not, at this point in time, Uganda’s Health Sector is liberated indeed and better than it has ever been! Happy liberation day to all Ugandans as we look forward to more years of Steady Progress.

Mr Bahikire Daraus works as a Communications Officer for Government Citizens Interaction Centre (GCIC) at Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.