Military doctors from the UPDF, Police and Uganda Prisons have been deployed at Mulago National Referral Hospital to handle emergency cases as doctors’ strike enters second week.
All striking doctors have been asked to quit the hospital premises as government embarks on a recruitment process of new doctors who are willing to work under the current public service terms.
Health Minister Dr Jane Aceng said President Museveni had authorised the ministry’s request to have doctors from armed forces deployed to attend to patients at Mulago’s satellite hospitals at Kawempe and Kiruddu.
“I notified the president that I needed support. He told the army that the Ministry of Health needed support,” Dr Aceng said.
This is after a Cabinet Committee set up by the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda on Wednesday failed to strike an agreement with the striking doctors under the Uganda Medical Association (UMA).
It’s not clear how the few doctors from the armed forces will handle the hundreds of emergency cases at the hospital.
“The demand by other doctors and yourselves are genuine, and we have never deviated from them but the methodology is wrong,” Dr Aceng told members of UMA. “And, I maintain my stand on the advice of the Solicitor General (official government adviser) that the strike is illegal although the demands are not illegal.”
During a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday night, last week, Aceng denounced the industrial action as illegal and ordered the doctors to return to work or face disciplinary action.
“…The involvement of UMA in influencing the public service activities by calling on doctors to strike is illegal and should cease henceforth and the perpetrators should be treated as trespassers,” Aceng said.
The minister has largely been ignored. Her threat of disciplinary action against the striking doctors seems to have instead strengthened their resolve.
Aceng said while the health workers’ demands are genuine, they must exercise their rights with restraint and patience to allow government handle their issues in a phased manner.
But Obuku called out the minister.
“We were about to agree with the office of the prime minister,” he said “but then the ministry of health [has] poured cold water on the deal. Threatening will not work. We call upon the government to end the strike because it is the chief organiser of strikes by not meeting the demands of health workers.”
Obuku said medics will not accept government’s well-rehearsed excuse of having no money to meet their demands. He said the politicians should stop hoodwinking the public that there are no resources to effect a pay rise for doctors.
“I want parliamentarians to jump over tables and throw chairs in order to pass the health budget when it is around 15 percent. Doctors have decided to conduct this industrial action because life was being lost excessively [because of poor working conditions] and we are saying that as vanguards of the health sector, we should be the first ones to stand up because we have also lost doctors to preventable diseases,” Obuku said.
Aceng says UMA is a registered company whose mandate is not to interfere in the provision of services by the doctors at their work places as a trade union would, but to promote and maintain a high standard of professional ethics among members of the medical profession.
“Therefore, the involvement of UMA in influencing the public service activities by calling on doctors to strike is illegal and should cease henceforth and the perpetrators should be treated as trespassers,” Aceng stated.
Wilson Owere, the chairman general of the National Organisation of Trade Union (NOTU), said that medical workers have been ‘brainwashed’ by Dr Obuku and Workers MP Dr Sam Lyomoki to believe their political stunts of promising them enhanced salaries.
Owere says the health workers are just excited about what they are being told and that the two people are positioning themselves politically to manipulate the already unsuspecting health workers. He says NOTU will not allow the two individuals to create tension in the country.
“The medical workers will get what is due to them and we’re going to do it in a very orderly way. As long as am still a leader of workers, I will not allow politics to mar the issue of workers. Politics must get out of the workers negotiations so that we be more focused so that doctors and nurses get what they want.
What I want to see now is government bridging the gap which is there. Those who are getting too much money because the lowest person is getting around Shs 170,000. Now what I want to see is government bridging that gap”, Owere said.
Christopher Peter Werikhe, the NOTU general secretary when asked why the health workers had refused to heed to their calls not to participate in the strike, said the NOTU has been hijacked by Dr Lyomoki who has been pushing his selfish interests.
Werikhe argues that even the proposals made by UMA were stolen from NOTU’s negotiations with government and blamed them for rushing to the media to publish them ahead of NOTU.