Dr Byarugaba Baterana, the Executive Director of Mulago National Referral Hospital has backed the move by government to establish an international specialized hospital in Lubowa saying it will reduce the “financial hemorrhage” that Uganda is suffering due to medical tourism.
According to Dr Baterana, establishing Lubowa specialized hospital will also allow for competition in delivery of cutting edge medical services which will significantly improve health care in Uganda.
Last month, Parliament approved a request by government through the Ministry of Finance to loan USD 379 million to Italian firm, Finasi/Roko construction SPV Ltd, for the construction of the hospital.
However, this was strongly opposed by the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) arguing the project is too costly and that priority should be given to Mulago hospital which is currently undergoing major renovations.
The President of the Medical Association, Dr Ekwaro Obuku said the Lubowa private facility will not in the interest of the majority of Ugandans since it will be serving only a few people who can afford the specialized services.
“Government has already invested in renovating Mulago hospital and has bought equipment. It’s just about to open. By reallocating and prioritizing resources to Lubowa hospital, Mulago will be starved,” Dr Obuku said last month.
He said that 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.
But the Head of Mulago hospital argues otherwise. Dr Baterana told reporters on Tuesday that “we need competition”.
“We need another hospital in order to avoid a one-son syndrome. That’s why we need Lubowa,” he said.
“A country like Kenya has Nairobi hospital and Aga Khan, why do you want us Uganda to have only Mulago? Why must we have only one Computed Tomography (CT) Scan, only one Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan? Why can’t we have 10? This one-sydrome is bad”.
He said the construction of a facility like Lubowa is long overdue.
“Uganda’s population is growing fast, we need more hospitals to compete with the international standards. Beside, the building of Lubowa gives us more money since people from neighboring countries like DRC and South Sudan come to Uganda for medical treatment”.
He also argued that the establishment of another super specialized health facility boosts the confidence of tourists seeking to visit Uganda since they are guaranteed of highly specialized medical care.
“Tourists won’t come to Uganda if we have poor hhospitals.With Lubowa, they will know there is a hospital that meets international standards”.
He cited the resistance that the establishment of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) met initially, with many arguing Makerere University was sufficient enough to train medical students. Several years later, Dr Baterana said, MUST produces some of the best graduates that outcompete Makerere.
He used this case to advocate for a system that allows the same multiple options in specialized health service delivery.
Dr Baterana said “Lubowa will be a source of income and it will prevent financial hemorrhage” resulting from Ugandans seeking medical care abroad.
Government is currently making major renovations at the Mulago national referral hospital to transform it to a super specialized hospital. Once works are completed, the hospital will have the capacity to offer services like organ transplants, a well equipped and modernized ICU as well as conducting complex surgical procedures like hip and knee replacement, brain and heart surgeries.
This boosted capacity will nolonger necessitate that Ugandans spend millions of Shillings flying abroad to get such health care, Dr Baterana said.