By Richard Todwong
In his address while launching the National Resistance Movement Election Manifesto 2016-2021, the National NRM Chairman and Presidential Candidate Gen Yoweri Kaguta Museveni emphasised the strategic focus on investment in health and related infrastructure as a key priority in the next five years.
A healthy population is the priority of the NRM government as it is only a healthy and productive people and human resource who will ensure the attainment of the key objectives of socio-economic transformation and a prosperous, modern, middle-income country as outlined in the country’s development Vision 2040 and the second National Development Plan.
The health sector is one area where the Opposition has directed their missives to provision of health services and agreed: Yes, we have challenges in our health services, buts it is also a fact that a lot has been done.
Looking at our health budget today, which is close to sh1.3 trillion and about 7% of the total budget – health is the third biggest consumer of public resources, works and energy taking the first and second places, respectively.
Over the years, the NRM government has focused on prevention as well as cure, the reason as to why many Ugandans are now living longer at average of 56 years vis-à-vis the life expectancy of 42 years in 1986.
In a developing country like Uganda, you do not judge a health system by merely looking at how many sick people have not received the desired level of treatment but rather by how many people have been prevented from falling sick.
The government has championed programmes such as Immunisation-for-All (Bonna Bagemwe), which has tremendously reduced the number of deaths from the deadly killer diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, Hepatitis and among others.
The immunisation has stopped our children from dying young. The infant mortality rate is now 44 per 1000 live births. It used to be 156 per 1000 born alive babies in 1986. That is why the population has grown from 14million in 1986 to 38million people by 2015.
Much better health shall be realised because we are incorporating all tiers of leaders to preach preventable measures such as hygiene, anti-malaria advices and change in lifestyle.
The Government’s preventive intervention against malaria through the countrywide distribution of free insecticide treated mosquito nets has scaled down the impact of the killer disease among children.
Also Government has intervened in treatable or preventable conditions of pneumonia and diarrhea among infants by providing antibiotics and oral rehydration therapy at Health Centre III level.
In addition, there is gradual improvement in maternal healthcare due to Ministry of Health’s aggressive maternal healthcare awareness campaign. Consequently, the number of women delivering outside health facilities has reduced. Nevertheless, there is room for further improvement in this sector.
At the moment in most of the health centre IIIs, IVs and regional referral hospitals there are constant supplies of drugs by the National Medical Stores in respect to the cases or incidents of disease registered in the various localities.
As per procedure, a health centre is only supposed to requisition for drugs to match new cases, however, we have been having cases where National Medical Stores supplies drugs to health centres which don’t match the reported cases.
This is not to mean that health facilities are not supplied with drugs. Government, through the Drug Monitoring Unit (DMU) has done well to reduce theft of drugs from government health facilities.
Through emphasis on prevention, HIV/AIDS prevalence dropped significantly from 19 per cent in the 1990s to 6.7 per cent. We, however, need to put more efforts in combating the scourge since the infection rates are going higher.
That said, 650,000 Ugandans are on life-saving ARVs and the government has committed substantial resources to rehabilitating, re-equipping and building of new health centres up to sub-county level (80 per cent) and policy and regulatory framework that has encouraged the private sector participation in provision of health services.
The establishment of many health centres at parish, sub county and district level has increased and widened universal access to healthcare as compared to the famous talk of 22 regional referral hospitals which were built by the Milton Obote government, where people would trek tens of miles to receive treatment.
Uganda is now a modal country when it comes to combating epidemics like Ebola virus. Ugandan doctors were deployed in West Africa to combat the deadly Ebola virus which claimed over 10,000 lives.
All these are achievements that put Uganda far much ahead of her peers. With the impending implementation of health insurance and a population that is increasingly seeking quality health services; there is no doubt that in a few years our health system will be one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of these reforms take time to have impact on the ultimate outcomes.
So I strongly believe that given our current state of disease prevalence and control, considering the effectiveness of health inputs that would be purchased at current prices and taking account of relative value and cost of other demands on national resources, government is doing what is realistically possible to improve our health services.
The writer is deputy secretary NRM and Member of Parliament for Nwoya County