Listening to Capital Radio on the Saturday as I drove into town after news had broken that the country was without a radiotherapy machine, I was amused by a young female presenter’s crazy views on possible ways forward.
The current situation is that Mulago cancer institute’s radiotherapy machine has permanently broken down. Previously, Uganda had another machine at Lacor hospital, but it expired!
Coincidentally, on that same Saturday, the NRM held its victory celebrations at Kololo. It is public knowledge the function cost Shs 1.5bn, and it is purported that the cake alone cost millions!
It is also public knowledge that President Magufuli rejected victory celebrations last year when he took up office, and recommended that monies for that function be used to refurbish a hospital. He also engaged in community service that day; he and others of his party were seen cleaning markets.
Well, the presenter, recalling the above scenario, proposed that Tanzania should be persuaded to loan Magufuli to Uganda for a period of three months. In exchange, Uganda would send 15 ministers to Tanzania, and this wouldn’t be a big loss, seeing that we have many.
What about President Museveni? He should go on to leave together with Mama Janet, she further proposed. In her opinion, the mere presence of Magufuli in Uganda would enable the country to save enough money for the cancer machine and other hospital equipment. Such is the Magufuli effect!
So, on arrival at the station for the Capital Gang show, I quizzed the presenter about her joke. She wasn’t laughing, insisting that we, as a country, are in so much trouble that we need divine intervention or wild ideas.
Coincidentally again, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, a National Resistance Movement (NRM) member of parliament and government minister, walked in. He was one of the panellists on the Gang that day.
It was amusing because the presenter did not at first realise that Baryomunsi is one of the ministers of health. But when she did shortly, she literally went mad!
She had been in a rush to leave after work but she put her bag down and took on the minister, challenging him with numerous questions, including many that would never be aired! Her anger couldn’t be faked!
Right now, there is a lot more to be angry about! We now know the rot in hospitals, especially regarding equipment and services. X-ray machines in Butabika and Masaka are confirmed dead.
Dr Diana Atwiine, the State House health services Czar, confirmed that Mulago is reduced to the level of a health centre IV because it is only treating malaria. The head of Mulago is also adamant, and insists that he cannot be expected to deliver a good service when so little is invested! He has a point!
On the other hand, the ministry of health’s permanent secretary Dr Asuman Lukwago thinks that this is just cheap politicking! Perhaps he misunderstands the anger about poor public health services!
Of course, it is understandable when Mulago is likened to a mere health centre. Until recently, there was no MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) machine. This is embarrassing because there are about six private clinics that offer MRI scans. Mulago does CT scans, but so do about ten private clinics.
Last August when I wrote about the casualty ward 2B, I asked a doctor friend about what needs to be done in the short term to improve services.
“Drastically increase health services personnel’s pay immediately,” was his advice. That way, there would be motivation despite the poor quality of facilities. I guess like many others, I had never heard of a bone bank, skin bank or cell savers for immediate blood transfusion during operations. The doctor argued that these were essentials for a hospital at Mulago’s level.
So, the remedial plan is to take 400 cancer patients to a Nairobi hospital that has offered free treatment! It is good that government has maintained good relations with fellow and richer East Africans.
Indeed, it is generous of Kenya to take in and treat Ugandans at no charge. However, I foresee big challenges! It is thought that there may be several thousand people that need urgent radiotherapy. Who is that person or committee that will bear the burden of choosing the 400?
Will the anger displayed by the Capital Radio presenter and that of the State House health services monitor last to drive authorities to improve? Doubtable!
The cobalt machine for which we must wait at least a year to be installed is outdated! Apparently, there are newer models that are even less harmful because they do not use cobalt!
Written by OSKAR SEMWEYA-MUSOKE