Pay Us, We Are Frustrated and Hungry Work Force– Striking Doctors

Uganda Medical Association – UMA has petitioned parliament over the irregular payment of allowances to 729 Senior House Officers and Medical Interns, which has taken a huge toll on their mental health and negatively impacted health care services to patients.

Also referred to as Senior Medical Doctors, the Senior House Officers are duly registered with the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council and are undergoing postgraduate training to become specialists in various specialties of medicine.

On Monday, the Senior House Officers laid down their tools protesting the delayed and intermittent payment of their duty facilitation allowances for the last six months. In December 2021, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed the Health Ministry to pay the Senior House Officers and Medical Interns a monthly stipend of 2.5 million Shillings.

They are considered a critical workforce in the delivery of specialized health services in the fields of surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, neurosurgery, internal medicine, and emergency and child health care among others in public referral hospitals.

It is the second petition since July 2016, when the aggrieved Senior House Officers – SHOs initially lodged a complaint regarding Duty Facilitation Allowances in Parliament and demanded 168 billion Shillings before they reduced the money to Shillings 55 billion.

Now, the Government will need 1.980 billion Shillings every month and an annual 23.760 billion Shillings to address the strike. Dr. Edith Nakku Joloba, the UMA President told the Health Committee of parliament chaired by Dr. Charles Ayume on Wednesday that the Senior Medical Officers cannot meet their living expenses like rent and school fees for their children, which has impacted their mental health condition.

Dr. Andrew Mark Mayanga, a Senior House Officer, notes that they are suffering from mental health conditions occasioned by poverty yet the study-work situation requires them to dedicate more than 18 hours daily and 108 hours per week in the wards.

According to Alone Ahabwe, the Welfare Chairperson of the Uganda Medical Association, their efforts to seek an audience with the Ministry of Health have been futile, which left them with no option but to lay down their tools until the government responds to their demands.

Attempts by Dr. Ayume to convince the aggrieved Senior Medical Doctors to call off their strike didn’t yield results as they demanded for a renewed commitment that guarantees the payment of their allowances. As a way forward, Dr. Ayume said the Committee will invite the Ministry of Health alongside the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development for a meeting slated for Thursday to help devise a durable solution to the standoff.

SHOs are trained doctors who are already certified and working under supervision to give support to the few consultants in the country. They provide an affordable, capable, and skilled resource that has been utilized in many hospital clinical models in the global history of medicine. 

Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio currently stands at 1 to 20,00 persons – far below the ideal World Health Organization – WHO recommended ratio of 1 to 1,000. The 2020 – 2030 Human Resource Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Health reveals a higher gap of 70 percent for specialists and consultants. 

Given the gap, government health facilities and the private health sector relies mainly on the SHOs to bridge the widening gap in order to provide the much-needed specialists and regular health care services to Ugandans. The Officers are admitted through Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Mbarara University, Kabale University, Busitema University, and Kampala International University and are deployed in Mubende, Jinja, Fort-Portal, Kabale, Hoima, and Nsambya referral hospitals.

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