In Uganda stories of people dying because of medical neglect are very common. But with the country plagued by a shortage of health workers, anger is mounting over government plans to 'export' 241 medical workers to Trinidad and Tobago. According to a 2014 advertisement by Uganda's foreign ministry, these medics were requested by the Caribbean nation to strengthen its health service sector.
Distracted by her toddler while driving her new car, 22-year-old Sandra Mbabazi, Raymond Mwesiga's younger sister, had a minor accident and did not seem to be badly hurt. A passerby took her to a private health facility in Buwama, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from Uganda's capital Kampala. Mwesiga said, "She had internal bleeding and needed quick attention. But there were not enough skilled doctors to look at her. She had already lost a lot of time and they were still procrastinating about this and that, so she passed away. She should still be alive."
Ugandan activists claim that the east African nation cannot 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 that of Uganda.
The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a Ugandan think-tank, has filed a public interest litigation in the High Court against the government concerning this medical 'brain drain'. The IPPR argues that the 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 health workers.
The IPPR said that the shortlisted health workers include scores of nurses and midwives as well as anesthetists, psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, radiographers, gynecologists, pediatricians, pathologists and surgeons. One of Uganda's three neurosurgeons had also been shortlisted. IPPR director Justinian Kateera said, "Thousands of people will die, thousands die already. Already 16 women die each day through complications related to childbirth and an exodus of midwives would be a disaster. Our health systems are weak because of our inability to retain medics."
Uganda's attorney general has argued that it is the constitutional right of all professionals to seek gainful employment anywhere, while the ministry of health says it had not been involved in the recruitment process.
The planned export has been criticized by the United States, which gives $400 million in aid to Uganda's health sector every year.
According to a 2012 British Medical Journal study, 42 percent of vacancies remain unfilled in Uganda; and the country has fewer than 5,000 doctors for 35 million people, with 50 specialists having left in search of better pay overseas in the past decade, while the bulk of new graduates prefer to look for jobs abroad too.
Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa were also badly affected by medical brain drains.