Senior House Officers (SHOs), also known as senior medical doctors undergoing postgraduate training at regional and national referral hospitals, have announced their intention to resume a strike over non-payment of their remuneration by the government.
The doctors had previously gone on strike in March for three weeks due to the same issue. The SHO’s Chief Resident, Dr. Robert Lubega, stated at a news conference on Sunday that the government lacked the will to pay their allowances.
The SHO leadership recently attended a parliamentary Health Committee meeting where they learned that the Ministry of Finance had allocated only Shillings 10.2 billion to cater for medical interns and SHO allowances for the Financial Year 2023/24.
This represents a shortfall of approximately Shillings 70 billion of the Shillings 80.5 billion budget earlier proposed by the Ministry of Health to cater for all trainee doctors’ allowances. Dr. Lubega argues that the government’s inability to pay their allowances shows a lack of will, especially as some doctors have not received any allowances since November despite working under deplorable conditions.
In 2016, President Yoweri Museveni approved a monthly allowance of 2.5 million Shillings for specialist doctors, stating that not paying them was an act of modern-day slavery.
However, Dr. Othiniel Musana, the President of the Gynaecologists and Obstetricians Association of Uganda, expressed concerns over the strike, considering that hospitals were already short-staffed as intern doctors, who make up over 70% of the human resource for doctors, were yet to be deployed.
The Ministry of Health had previously indicated that SHOs were not budgeted for, but Permanent Secretary Dr. Diana Atwine revealed that they were in consultations with the Ministry of Education to come up with a permanent solution for SHOs and Medical Intern’s pay.
However, senior doctors and members of the Uganda Medical Association claim that it is only a matter of prioritization as doctors’ numbers can be tracked from when they join medical school.
Dr. Frank Asiimwe Rubabinda, the President of the Association of Surgeons of Uganda, suggested that the government should consider screening private hospitals that are able to provide training and have the right human resource and equipment.
The strike comes at a time when Uganda’s health sector is under scrutiny due to the exposure of a rundown health service in a recent online exhibition.