Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Opposition legislators have raised concerns and challenged the Ministry of Health regarding its authority to modify the terms and conditions of the deployment of pre-medical interns.
The lawmakers’ response comes after a directive issued on Wednesday by Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, instructing pre-medical interns to apply online for self-sponsored internship training opportunities.
In his statement released on Thursday the Leader of the Opposition (LOP) in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga, describes the Ministry’s guidance as discriminatory and a clear violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which promotes equality before the law, irrespective of socioeconomic status.
Dr. Timothy Batuwa Lusala, the Shadow Minister of Health and legislator for Jinja West Constituency, read Mpuuga’s statement to the media, emphasizing that it is mandatory for the government to deploy pre-medical interns with proper compensation as mandated by law.
Dr. Butuwa further explained that the Ministry’s decision to deploy some pre-medical interns at their own expense exceeds its authority and contradicts the provisions of the Pharmacy and Drugs Act of 1971, the Nurses and Midwives Council Act of 1996, and the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act of 1998.
Dr. Nicholas Kamara, Kabale Municipality member of parliament, who is also part of the medical profession, called on his colleagues not to supervise the pre-medical interns, urging them to reject the Ministry’s unconstitutional approach to avoid setting a negative precedent.
The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has already advised newly graduated doctors not to comply with the Ministry of Health’s directive to apply for self-sponsored internship training. Dr. Herbert Luswata, the General Secretary of the association, stated that they have instructed pre-interns not to follow the Ministry’s proposal, as it would encourage corruption and unethical practices such as charging patients for free healthcare services in government hospitals.
Section J (1) of the Public Service Standing Orders (2021) obligates the government to collaborate with training institutions, colleges, and universities to promote training programs that require students to gain practical skills in preparation for the labor market.
However, the Ministry of Health is currently unable to deploy the over 20,000 pre-interns who were originally scheduled to begin their internship on April 1, 2023, due to budget constraints resulting from the increased number of students joining internships.
Medical interns are entitled to a monthly allowance of 2.5 million Ugandan shillings to cover accommodation and meals. Although the Ministry of Health requested a budget allocation of 80 billion shillings in the FY 2023/2024 to pay all interns, only 8 billion shillings have been approved.
With Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio standing at an alarming 1 to 20,000 individuals, far below the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of 1 to 1,000, the Ministry of Health’s failure to deploy interns exacerbates the healthcare system’s staffing challenges.
The 2020-2030 Human Resource Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Health reveals a significant shortage of 70 percent for specialists and consultants.