By Dr. Olive Kobusingye
The first several batches of Ugandans who trained as doctors were not called doctors.
The British did not think that a Ugandan could be a doctor. They called them assistants.
This was despite the fact that the nature and content of their training was similar to that of medical graduates in Britain.
There were many excuses given for this discrimination.
When some of the first graduates wanted to specialize, more excuses came up – to do the exams they had to travel to the Britain. It would be too expensive – the Buganda Government provided some scholarships.
It took decades of lobbying, agitating, and jumping through hoops for those graduates to ‘earn’ the title of ‘Doctor’ and to get international recognition.
Now we seem to have come full circle.
Ugandan leaders have over time decided that Ugandan doctors are not good enough for them. They will not let a Ugandan doctor or nurse touch them, or their children.
They take the taxes paid by these same health workers and go abroad to find medical care – including routine check-ups.
Because of this practice, the money that should buy medical equipment and lab reagents goes to Kenya, India, South Africa, Britain … so that indeed, the Ugandan doctors at home do not always have the right tools.
COVID-19 has showed us that we cannot always go elsewhere for medical care.
The President has realized that Ugandan doctors know their stuff. He has also realized that to continue to buy healthcare in foreign countries hurts the Ugandan healthcare system.
In his State of the Nation Address President Museveni spoke eloquently about Buy Uganda Build Uganda.
What this means for healthcare is that to build Uganda, Ugandans should consume medical care at home.
This is the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda – Medical Care’, or BUBU-MC.
The medical community should not let this goodwill slip through our fingers. We must press for this policy to be seen to its final logical conclusion – the barring of politicians and senior civil servants from taking Ugandan taxpayers’ money abroad for medical care.
There are many Uganda doctors who will sneer at this effort. Some will point to the many presidential pronouncements which have achieved nothing. I want to remind you of our forefathers in Medicine in this country. If they had given up the fight, we would all be called Medical Assistants. Unless we reject the current state in which our own taxes are used to keep us backward, we shall indeed continue to see our patients taking planes to go and seek care elsewhere, even when we are perfectly capable of giving the same or better quality care.
Ugandan doctors need to speak up and call for the immediate abolishing of medical care abroad using public money. That same money should go to enhancing health workers’ salaries, the equipping of Ugandan hospitals, and improving the working conditions of health workers in the country.
U.M.A and the constituent associations, such as Association of Surgeons of Uganda, should lead this effort.