Uganda is People

On Tuesday, 6th March 2012, my attention was drawn to the article titled “Ferrying nodding patients to Mulago was uncalled for: WHO” that was published in the Daily Monitor website http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/1360198/-/axfghbz/-/index.html.

Not only was the title of the article intriguing, the accompanying picture of the patient, Simon Opio was baffling. Did the Daily Monitor make a mistake? Was Opio really 15 years old? If the Daily Monitor was right, did the nodding disease so emaciated Opio to the extent that he looked like a boy who was hardly 10 years old? Is this what the nodding disease does to those it afflicts? Did the nodding disease find Opio already ailing? Is it plausible that Opio might have been afflicted by other diseases related to malnutrition, which were presenting symptoms similar to those of nodding disease?

Many questions abound, I processed the article’s title further and wondered why those who ferried the nodding disease patients made the judgement to ferry the patients from Kitgum, subjecting the patients to a six hour drive, for a distance of approximately 440 kilometres to Mulago? According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) as of 2009 there were 42 health facilities in the wider Kitgum area, of which one is a government hospital and 32 are government owned health centres. Why did those who ferried the patients decide that none of the hospitals in the wider Kitgum area were sufficient to handle the nodding disease? If they were right and the Kitgum hospitals were insufficient in capacity, why is that the case?

Using Kitgum’s life expectancy rate, which according to UBOS is only 29 years, as a proxy indicator for the capacity of Kitgum’s hospitals to provide health care, an assessment that the Kitgum hospitals are insufficient is plausible. But then again, I wonder, is Kitgum’s low life expectancy and the seeming stunted growth of its children, such as Opio’s, only a reflection of Kitgum’s poor access to health care or is it a symptom of our failure as a nation to ensure that our people stay healthy and alive? Judging from Opio’s size at 15 years old, his access to food during his formative years was insufficient. Opio’s condition and others afflicted as he was, is an indicator that Uganda is malfunctioning.

Sadly this is still the status quo in Uganda in 2014 – hundreds of mothers and children die every day from ailments that are not ordinarily deadly if the requisite health services were accessible to them. Nearly 500/1,000 births end with a mother dying at birth, from manageable complications such as bleeding to death. Uganda’s national health policy whose intention is to reduce poverty through promoting people’s health certainly seems to be gathering dust on some shelf somewhere. So I sound this reminder to all our politicians and public servants that Uganda is people – not those vague indicators, such as Gross Domestic Product – that are full in your speeches and with which you measure success.

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