Kitgum, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As Kitgum Government Hospital increasingly struggles with emergency cases due to the ongoing industrial action by a section of health workers, health administrators have retrieved their stethoscopes and white coats to practice what they were originally trained to do – saving lives.
The Allied Health Professionals, who include clinical officers, laboratory staff, records officers, sonographers, radiographers, anesthetists, dental technicians, clinical psychiatrists, and vector controllers, countrywide, are on a sit-down strike. Only the Medical Officers, midwives, nurses, and support and administrative staff are not striking.
The industrial action, which started on Monday, May 16th, follows the failure of the government to honor its 2017 promise in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to enhance the salaries of the striking workers.
According to the agreement, it was agreed that health workers with a diploma on the U5 scale would monthly earn 3 million shillings and certificate holders on U7 scale would bags 1.3 million shillings. However, the professionals say the diploma holders are still getting 1.2 million shillings and certificate holders earn 600,000 shillings.
Besides low pay, the medical workers have been complaining of failure to be absorbed in public service and poor working conditions. On April 25, they gave the government 21 days to respond to the above issues, or they lay down their tools.
Monica Akello, the Senior Hospital Administrator at Kitgum Government Hospital, says the ongoing industrial action has affected the out-patient department most because many of the striking workers work in that department.
Akello says the Medical Superintendent and District Health Officer have come in to save the situation, but the challenge remains that the record takers are also striking.
Akello reveals that the most affected group of people seeking medical assistance at the hospital are children because they cannot persevere ailments for long, and often come back as requiring emergency help.
On May 4th, 2022, midwives and nurses through their umbrella body, the Federation of Uganda Nurses and midwives also petitioned parliament for a salary raise and have reportedly vowed to rise up on May 26th, if their demand is not met.
Akello fears that if the nurses also start striking before government settles the issue of the Allied Health Professionals, then the problem will become bigger.
Dr. Geoffrey Okello, the Medical Superintendent of Kitgum General Hospital workers under the Allied Health Professionals Association form the bigger percentage of the workforce in the hospital and their absence at work had broken the chain they gave the remaining workers.
Okello says the strike has increased the workload on the skeletal workers remaining, as the hospital receives over 300 patients daily in the Outpatient department.
The hospital also has other entry points such as the mental health unit, HIV clinic, eye clinic, antenatal, and orthopedics among others, implying that the hospital receives an average of 500 patients daily.
Kitgum government hospital serves a catchment population of 61,750 in 44 villages and 10,328 households in Kitgum municipality.
According to reports from the hospital, patients travel from as far as Pader, Lamwo, Agago, Abim, Karenga, Kaabong, parts of Gulu district, part of the Eastern Equatoria in the Republic of South Sudan, and a greater population of the refugee settlement camp in Palabek Ogili sub-county in Lamwo district.
Despite the huge burden left because of the striking workers, Titus Komakech, the chairperson Allied Health Professionals’ Association in Kitgum, says they will stand their ground till government honors its 2017 CBA agreement, or get a directive from the national team on what to do.