Medics’ Body Opposes “Costly” Govt Investment in Lubowa Hospital, Wants Mulago Prioritized

Uganda Medical Association (UMA) President, Dr Ekwaro Obuku speaking at a news conference in 2017 (Photo by The Observer)

The Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has joined a section of legislators to oppose the move by government of Uganda to loan up to Shs 1.4 trillion to an Italian investor to construct a specialized hospital in Lubowa.

Last week, Parliament approved a request by government through the Ministry of Finance to issue promissory notes (financial government guarantee) not exceeding USD 379.71 million to Finasi/Roko construction SPV limited for the financing of the International Specialized Hospital of Uganda at Lubowa in Wakiso district.

This followed a motion that was tabled by the Minister of Finance in charge of Planning, David Bahati requiring government to issue loan financing to an Italian investor, Finasi Roko Consortium.

According to the Minister, the hospital will mainly specialize in treating non-communicable diseases and reduce the costs that Ugandans have been incurring in seeking medical care abroad.

However, a section of legislators and the public have since come out to strongly oppose the proposal which many say is not viable given the cost. Others have questioned why government would have to invest money into an investor.

Now, the body that brings together medics in Uganda has said that the Lubowa project should be reviewed because it is too costly.

The President of the Medical Association, Dr Ekwaro Obuku said the Lubowa private facility will not serve the greatest good for the greatest majority since it will be serving only a few people who can afford the services.

“That hospital duplicates and outcompetes demands for resources by crucial yet unfinished low hanging fruits. By low hanging fruits we mean places like Mulago hospital. Government has already invested in renovating it and has bought equipment. It’s just about to open,” Dr Obuku told reporters during a news conference at Mulago hospital on Monday.

“By reallocating and prioritizing resources to Lubowa hospital, Mulago will be starved”.

He likened the proposed humongous investment by government into the Lubowa hospital to a man who opts to spend heftily on a “slay queen” and abandons his wife who has raised all his children.

“I would compare this to a husband who is government investing in a slay queen all these trillions and forgetting ‘Mama wa Bana’ Mulago which has been taking care of Ugandans and has renewed its commitment in terms of repositioning its mandate, training doctors, new equipment and is ready to take off,” Dr Ekwaro said.

He says instead of spending Shs 1.5 trillion (which is half of the entire budget for the health sector) on a venture whose viability is in question, government should instead avail Shs 24bn to Mulago and Shs 2bn to the Heart Institute to enable them offer specialized healthcare services.

With a 900 – bed capacity and serving the majority of ordinary Ugandans, Dr Ekwaro argues that Mulago should be a priority. The planned Lubowa facility has a bed capacity of only 300.

He also said that government should have considered the already existing private health facilities such as the International Hospital Kampala (IHK) which performed a heart surgery 12 years ago but lacks the funds to boost its capacity.

The Association also expressed concern that it was not consulted by government yet it is a key stakeholder.

“We didn’t know what was going on. We’ve been seeing people who are not experts in the field talking this and that. And we’ve come out to say that investment is not worthy for Uganda today,” the UMA President said.

“It can hold and we work on Mulago first. We are raising a petition to the government to review the contents of that project. We want; to be part of the decision making, the cost reduced and the money to go to Mulago first,” he said.

“We have the talent, we know what to do, yet I understand the person investing here is an expert in furniture. We have Ugandans who understand specialized medical care very well”.

He says it’s not late to plan for specialized medical care.

Last week, President Yoweri Museveni while addressing the NRM Caucus applauded Parliament for approving the loan request for Lubowa hospital.

“Incidentally, I need to thank you for passing the loan of the hospital because you were about to sabotage three projects,” Museveni told NRM legislators.

He said that in addition to the hospital, the Italian investor plans to establish a coffee processing factory in Namanve and has already built a children’s hospital in Entebbe.

“All those projects were at risks but it’s good that you stood up and decided correctly,” said the President.

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