By 𝐃𝐫. 𝐁𝐚𝐥𝐮𝐤𝐮 𝐉𝐨𝐬𝐞𝐩𝐡
It is noble to work painstakingly in some ghostly operation theatre between the cracking walls of a grotesque health centre in rural Uganda. Indeed, saving tens of lives in an ebola outbreak is counted for heroism especially if the doctor dies in line of duty.
However, in the grand scheme of things, advocacy for quality health services and the wellbeing of health service providers saves millions of people. Unfortunately this is a slighted realm of health service provision.
Up until 2017, doctors in Uganda were vilified caricatures of witty cartoonists that portrayed them as either negligent or insatiable thieves of government drugs.
Then came Dr. Ekwaro Obuku who changed the narrative when elected president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA). Obuku epitomises the doctor that the future needs.
A vivacious, tenacious and eloquent healthcare leader who was laser focused on improved health services for patients and “wealth services” for doctors.
In the 24 months of his leadership, there was a realisation of salary increment of health workers across the board, streamlining of medical internship, providing incentives for postgraduate medical trainees and a continuous critical appraisal of health services at government facilities.
He was the face of the heated countrywide doctors’ strike of 2017 that galvanised the medical fraternity across generations and cadres. At the height of the doctors’ strike, we recall that Dr. Obuku was assaulted by unknown assailants and suffered head injury. He however arose from his sick bed with fierce fervour to move forward a healthcare revolution.
Despite polarised politics, Obuku and his committee negotiated concessions with central government that none of his recent predecessors envisioned.
The UMA now has vibrant SACCO to which the president of Uganda has generously contributed. It is in Obuku’s time that the annual grand doctors’ conference was inaugurated, an event that brings together local scholars to present pragmatic solutions for our health care problems.
It is now more honourable to be employed by the government health service commission than any time of the recent generations. Public universities attest to an increase in enrolment for postgraduate specialist training now that the prospects are less murky.
While cognizant of the role of other players in realisation of these achievements, we must not forget that everything rises and falls on the leader, the man in the arena.
Borrowing from the solemn words of Theodore Roosevelt: while his face was marred by dust and sweat and blood; Obuku strove valiantly while daring greatly. His place is not with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Now that UMA has elected a new president we looked forward to continued advocacy for patient safety, availability and reliability of supplies and services with the hope that someday government health facilities will be the prized health care provider for both the hobo and honcho.
There is still need for better employment terms for health workers to stimulate an of health workers from the private health sector and a return of the “work-exiled” health professionals to the service of the average Ugandan. Over to you Dr. Richard Idro, the new president of UMA to keep the momentum of the Obuku revolution.
The writer is the General Secretary of the Association of Physicians in Uganda