Coronavirus: Is the President’s smile at Ugandan doctors fake?

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President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

The coronavirus pandemic has strengthened the already severing relationship between the Ugandan Government and the medical workers’ community.

The president of the Republic of Uganda has severally applauded the health ministry and its workers for their effort in handling the coronavirus pandemic. In his recent speech to the nation delivered on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, the head of state verbally expressed gratitude to all the medical workers, calling them “frontrunners” in the fight against COVID-19. 

 A step back: Health workers and the government 

The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has been in standoffs with the government over unanswered requests to raise doctors’ salaries. In some instances, patients were left to lay in the hospitals unattended to. On November 6, 2017 doctors put their tools down for about three weeks over the government’s failure to meet their demands for an increase of allowances and salaries.

The government reacted by announcing it would fly in some 200 Cuban doctors to help with the medical emergency, something the UMA body and its members disapproved of. Each imported doctor from the Island country, according to sources would be paid about $1,500, while their Ugandan counterparts earn UgX 4.5m per month.

The health minister, Dr. Ruth Aceng, and her team had to fly to Cuba at some point to make negotiations. In the end, the plan to bring in the 200 medical recruits from Cuba was put on hold following a series of talks between the health ministry and government.

What’s the future of the relationship after coronavirus?

Apparently, the health ministry has the back of both the government and the broader public, but we are not sure if this will continue even after the pandemic is defeated. According to the budget allocation for this financial year, the ministry’s budget is now at 2.7 trillion shillings a slight increase from the last fiscal year. The new budget arrangement could still see the ministry receive additional funding depending on the status of the medical emergency.

Why are Cuban doctors willing to come and work in Uganda?

Cuba, through its Cuban healthcare “brigades,” has been sending doctors abroad to bridge gaps in the medical systems of countries for decades. Following the outbreak of coronavirus in March, Italy, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, and a bunch of other countries invited the team to offer help with the coronavirus fight. The Cuban healthcare brigades project was initiated by the Cuban government to support its struggling economy, but also extend cheap medical services to some of the underserved parts of the world.

Cuba has a track record of providing excellent pharmaceutical and biomedical services worldwide, although the US criticizes the overseas labor mobility project, calling it “politically driven”

In some countries, the services are offered at no cost, while in most cases the supported governments pay for the services.

Cuban medical workers back home are some of the least paid medical professionals on earth given the difficult economic situation inflicted by the US trade blockade. It is reported that most doctors working in the country earn just about $60 per month.

Do you think the government is truly happy with the health workers and could potentially address their longstanding grievances due to the demonstrable effort of the health ministry in fighting coronavirus? Leave a comment.

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