Doctors under the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) announced a strike on November 22, 2021.
Now, hours after the strike began, some doctors seem to have disregarded the strike by showing up for work but others are stuck to the decision by UMA. At many health facilities around Kampala, doctors dressed in their white coats are attending to patients.
The strike was initially meant to take place November 6th, but the new management of the Uganda Medical Association says it was postponed for better planning purposes. The doctors in August this year issued a notice to the government informing them that they would go on strike on November 6 if their demands were not met.
The doctors want the government to fill more than 40 percent of the vacant posts in public health facilities, increase the pay of intern doctors to 2.1 million as directed by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, compensate the families of health workers who succumbed to COVID-19 and to provide medical supplies like oxygen in health facilities. The doctors also want government to include medical interns and senior house officers on the public service salary structure.
According to the Public Relations Officer of UMA, Dr. Andrew Twinamatsiko, the new industrial action dates was agree upon by the new management. “We held a meeting to discuss the strategies and road map for the much needed industrial action whose goal is to better the health system of Uganda. We agreed that the at exactly 00:01 hours of November 22, the strike would start,” he said.
Dr. Herbert Luswata, the secretary general of UMA says the strike was delayed due to managerial issues. He says they had to push it forward because an official handover hand not taken place between the old and new leadership.
The doctors issued government notice of industrial action in August and since the members of the old leadership executive have met with officials from the ministry of health, finance and even the prime minister’s office but no decisions were made.
The old leadership of the association led by Dr. Richard Idro had expected the government to present a statement addressing their demands two weeks ago during the Grande Doctors Conference but none of the invited top management officials at the ministry of health like the permanent secretary Dr. Diana Atwine attended the conference.
The health ministry senior public relations officer, Emmanuel Ainebyoona urged the doctors to be patient since a supplementary budget was before parliament to address their needs. But as of today it remains to be seen whether government will respond to their demands and avoid the effects such a strike might have on the country’s health system in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing medical interns strike.
Doctors defy their leaders on strike:
Doctors in some health facilities in different parts of Kampala have showed up for work despite a nationwide strike announced by their umbrella body, the UMA. The doctors’ strike was announced due to government failure to meet their demands and fulfil their past promises including filling 40 percent of the vacant posts in public health facilities, increase the pay of intern doctors to 2.5 Million Shillings as directed by the President.
Other demands include compensating the families of health workers who succumbed to COVID-19 and to provide medical supplies like oxygen in health facilities and including medical interns and senior house officers on the public service salary structure.
A doctor who preferred anonymity said they had to work. ” I cannot refuse to work. Suppose we are punished for going on strike. I have children that depend on my job,” the doctor said. At Luwero and Nakaseke district hospitals, work was going on normally. Other health workers were seen on vaccination drives in Luwero town and Katikamu sub-county in Luwero district.
The health workers said that although they support the cause of the strike, they feared participating because they could be reprimanded by the district authorities. “If I strike and am fired, will UMA come to my rescue? We have faced several disciplinary actions here and I have never seen them coming to our rescue” a health worker at Luwero hospital.
At Kiruddu National Referral Hospital, doctors showed up for work and could be seen attending to patients. The doctors told URN that they had shown up to offer their services to patients in critical condition. The doctors who preferred to remain anonymous told our journalists that they could not ignore critically ill patients. One intern doctor who preferred anonymity said Kiruddu has between 25 to 35 doctors and 26 intern doctors, but all the interns are on strike.
However at some health facilities, despite the administration insisting that all their staff and show up for work, the absence of doctors was evident. At Kawempe National Referral Hospital, no doctors could be seen at the hospital. Many patients at the hospital said that they were stranded because there were no doctors to attend to them.
Diriisa Matovu, a resident of Bukasa who had brought his wife for a checkup after an operation said that only a few midwives and nurses attended to her. Matovu who went to the hospital at 6:00 am said that by 2:00 pm that no doctors were at the hospital to attend to his wife. He adds that some of the patients who had come for treatment were turned away except pregnant mothers and a few with no complications.
At Kisugu Health Center, only nurses could be seen working. In the situation at Kisenyi Health Center IV, there was visibly no doctor around the medical facility, it was only nurses in their uniform. Justus Cherop, the President of the Uganda Nurses and Midwives union says nurses are not on strike.
“The issues raised by the doctors are very right and will help health workers but we are not part of the strike. We have asked all out nurses to go to their work stations and work,” Cherop said.