The Opposition legislators have challenged the Ministry of Health that it does not have the power to alter the terms and conditions of the deployment of pre-medical interns.
The lawmakers’ response follows a directive on Wednesday by Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, to pre-medical interns willing to immediately apply online for self-sponsored internship training opportunities.
In a statement issued on Thursday by the Leader of Opposition – LOP in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga challenged the Ministry arguing that ‘the guidance is discriminatory and a blatant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of Uganda that promotes equality before the law, regardless socioeconomic standing, among others.
Mpuuga’s statement which was read to journalists by Dr. Timothy Batuwa Lusala, the Shadow Minister of Health, also the legislator for Jinja West Constituency, emphasized that it is mandatory for the Government to deploy pre-medical interns with pay as guided by the law.
Dr Butuwa explained that the Ministry’s decision to deploy some pre-medical interns at their own expense is beyond their powers and is dictated by 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, the Kabale Municipality Member of Parliament has rallied his colleagues in the medical profession not to supervise the pre-medical interns heed the Ministry’s unconstitutional approach which must be rejected to avoid bad precedence.
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Already, the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) has advised newly graduated doctors not to comply with the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) directive to apply for the one-year-long self-sponsored internship training.
Dr. Herbert Luswata, the Association’s General Secretary says they have instructed the pre-interns not to heed the ministry’s proposal as the practice would propagate corruption and unethical conduct of charging patients for free health services in government hospitals.
Section J (1) of the Public Service Standing Orders (2021) compels the Government to work with training institutions, colleges, and Universities to promote training programmes requiring students to gain practical skills in the world of work to enhance their technical and professional capabilities in preparation for entry in the labour market.
Annually, Uganda engages hundreds of interns in government hospitals across the country. Section J (5) of the Public Service Standing Orders provides that apprentices who perform tasks for which an allowance is payable at the existing rates at the entry level of the post of the trainee.
According to the Uganda Medical Association, there are over 20,000 pre-interns originally scheduled to begin their internship on April 1, 2023, but the Ministry of Health is unable to deploy them due to budget constraints resulting from the enlarged number of students joining internships.
Medical interns are entitled to a monthly allowance of 2.5 million shillings to cover accommodation and meals. In the FY 2023/2024, the Ministry of Health requested an allocation of 80 billion Shillings to pay all interns but only eight 8 billion has been appropriated.
Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio currently stands at 1 to 20,00 persons – far below the ideal World Health Organization – WHO recommended ratio of 1 to 1,000. The 2020 – 2030 Human Resource Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Health reveals a higher gap of 70 percent for specialists and consultants.