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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who should try accused health workers?

By Esther Nakkazi

Ugandan health workers are fighting back. As cases of what the public view as health workers negligence build up, most of them end up detained in police cells and tried by public courts.

Today the Executive Director for African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST) Prof. Francis Omaswa said enough of the police officers interference and trials in public courts for Uganda health workers.

“It is wrong to arrest health workers and detain them at police stations,” Omaswa said to which we got a loud applause at the first International symposium on community health workers held in Kampala, Uganda.

The theme is contribution of community health workers in attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) convened by Makerere University College of Health Sciences, School of Public Health, Uganda in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, UK and Ministry of Health, Uganda.

He said doctors and nurses who commit offences should be tried by their respective professional governing bodies.

In this case the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council (UMDPC) responsible for licensing, monitoring and regulating the practice of medicine and dentistry for doctors and the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC).

Omaswa has a point after all armed forces accused of offences are court-martialled. Justice is dispensed by their own.

The reasoning could be that people who have no knowledge of the challenges and proceedings in an operation theatre have no business questioning and detaining an accused doctor whose patient has died on the table.

These cases now have a trend in Uganda. Usually, a patient whose case will be viewed as ‘non fatal’ by the concerned parties, such as a pregnancy will report to a health facility. The health workers will demand a fee, a pricey drug not available at the facility or even tell the patients to wait for a senior doctor.

Time is of the essence here. While demands are being made, the patient needs attention and by the time whatever is demanded is availed and the patient is taken to theatre or given treatment, it is the apex of an emergency. A life or two are lost.

With the health system clearly lacking some health workers find themselves in a tight corner inspite of every effort they put in to save lives. So the larger thinking would be to blame the system.

“The best way to manage a system is not to blame an individual,” said Omaswa. Quoting the law, Omaswa who is celebrated as the most efficient Director General at Uganda's Ministry of Health and is remembered for the phrase 'health is made at home and repaired in hospitals' said the Ministry should be led by a technical person and it should not have both a director general and a permanent secretary because it duplicates roles and wastes resources.

While Prof. Omaswa clearly makes a valid point, the larger public has no knowledge of the authorities in charge of accused health workers nor the governing bodies, UMDPC and UNMC, so their immediate action is to go to police.

It also does not help if in some cases the health workers put money ahead of saving lives to which they swear the hippocratic oath. To show that justice is attainable, the health workers governing bodies need to create awareness and show that they can indeed punish those found guilty.

There is a proverb in Uganda which says a person does not just die. The translation is that there is always someone to be blamed for a death.

The public will never understand the system nor medicine but if they for sure suspect that a life could have been saved their only option will be to turn to police for justice!

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