Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Uganda sued in landmark medical ‘brain drain’ case

A patient, Steven Miiro, at Kayunga hospital in

A patient, Steven Miiro, at Kayunga hospital in Uganda. The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a Ugandan think-tank, is suing the government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical “brain drain”. PHOTO | FILE 

Kampala. The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a Ugandan think-tank, is suing the government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical “brain drain”.

In a petition filed in the High Court in December, the IPPR argues that government recruitment of public health workers for another government violates the constitutional rights of Ugandans to access basic medical services.

The group is seeking an interim injunction to halt the “imminent” export of the workers, with a hearing set for this week. 

“Thousands of people will die, thousands die already,” IPPR director Justinian Kateera told AFP, pointing out that already 16 women die each day through complications related to childbirth -- and that an exodus of midwives would be a disaster.

In Uganda stories of people dying because of medical neglect are all too common. But with the country plagued by a shortage of health workers, anger is mounting over government plans to “export” at least 241 medical workers to Trinidad and Tobago.

The medics, according to a 2014 advertisement by Uganda’s foreign ministry, were requested by the Caribbean nation to “strengthen its health service sector”.

But Ugandan activists claim the east African nation can ill afford to lose skilled staff and argue that more people will die needlessly if the plan goes ahead. They point out that Trinidad and Tobago already has a doctor to patient ratio that is 12 times better than Uganda’s.

The IPPR says the shortlist of health workers set to leave includes scores of nurses and midwives as well as anaesthetists, psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, radiographers, gynaecologists, paediatricians, pathologists and surgeons. One of Uganda’s three neurosurgeons had also been shortlisted, Kateera added.

“Our health systems are weak because of our inability to retain medics,” he said, asserting that the case will “settle jurisprudence on an issue that has afflicted Africa for ages, as revealed by the recent Ebola outbreak.” (AFP)

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