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HomeSub-Saharan RoundupAnger over Ugandan plans to export doctors

Anger over Ugandan plans to export doctors

Stories of people dying because of medical neglect are all too common in Uganda. But with the country plagued by a shortage of health workers, anger is mounting over government plans to "export" at least 241 medical workers to Trinidad and Tobago, says a MGAfrica report.

The medics, according to a 2014 advertisement by Uganda's foreign ministry, were requested by the Caribbean nation to "strengthen its health service sector". But Ugandan activists claim the east African nation can ill 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 Uganda's.

The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a Ugandan think-tank, is suing the government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical "brain drain". In a petition filed in the High Court in December, the IPPR argues that 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 workers, with a hearing set for this week.

"Thousands of people will die, thousands die already," IPPR director Justinian Kateera said, pointing out that already 16 women die each day through complications related to childbirth – and that an exodus of midwives would be a disaster. "Our health systems are weak because of our inability to retain medics," he said, asserting that the case will "settle jurisprudence on an issue that has afflicted Africa for ages, as revealed by the recent Ebola outbreak." Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa were also "badly affected" by medical brain drains, he added.

In Uganda, 42% of vacancies remain unfilled, and the country has fewer than 5,000 doctors for 35m people. Fifty 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.

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 recruiting process. The planned export has been criticised by the US, which gives $400m in aid to Uganda's health sector every year.

[link url="http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-01-27-uganda-sued-in-landmark-brain-drain-case-for-plans-to-export-medical-workers"]Full MGAfrica report[/link]

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