Uganda, fueling brain drain, sends MDs to Trinidad

For a country with less than 3,000 practicing doctors to treat 34.9 million people, Uganda’s decision to send some 300 doctors to Trinidad and Tobago has raised the temperatures of the some of the local parliamentarians to the boiling point.

According to Henry Oryem, state minister for foreign affairs, Uganda’s offer of medical professionals will build ties between the two countries. Curiously, the Caribbean islands’ doctor to patient ratio is not only 12 times better than Uganda’s, the country’s health system ranks much better than Uganda according to the World Health Organisation.

The ministry even published an ad seeking some 260 medical specialists including psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, gynecologists and anesthesiologists to relocate to the palm-fringed islands. A total of over 260 candidates have already been shortlisted including 185 midwives and several other highly specialized health professionals.

The specialists include: 15 of Uganda’s 91 Internal medicine specialists, four of the 11 psychiatrists, 20 of the 28 radiologists, 15 of the 92 pediatricians, 15 of the 126 gynecologists, 15 of the 28 orthopedic specialists, 4 of the 15 pathologists, four of the six urologists, and four of the 25 ophthalmologists among others.

The Independent newspaper of Uganda said it also learned that of three neurosurgeons in the country, one of them is among those leaving.

Dr. Michael Bayigga Lulume, who sits on the Parliamentary Committee on Health, blamed the Health Ministry for exporting scarce professionals.

But, Asuman Lukwago of the Ministry of Health denied he had any say in the matter.

“We were not involved in this,” he said. “The health ministry only gives government technical advice when they need it”.

The medics will be away for two years and another set will be sent, he said. Returnees will bring in more experience for the benefit of Ugandans. But instead of exporting them, the government should be finding ways of increasing their pay and building facilities to enable medical workers to deliver their best at home, he added.

The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) is already challenging the action in court.  In a first ever public interest litigation claim on medical brain drain, IPPR is seeking a judicial review to restrain the government from recruiting the health professionals for Trinidad and Tobago, pending determination of the main suit.

Speaking to The Independent, the think tank’s Executive Director Justinian Muhwezi Kateera said the private right to migrate in search of better prospects is not what IPPR is disputing.

“What is in dispute is  that the Inter-ministerial committee is acting as a recruitment agency at the expense of its citizens and  further acting beyond their mandate as they are only authorized to strengthen Uganda, and not Trinidad,” Kateera said, “But even if Trinidad and Tobago had hired a private agency to recruit, government should have exercised its ethical and legal obligation to regulate the brain drain.”