For the last few days the Medical Board has been in the news accused for denying “some politicians” clearance to go for further treatment abroad. However, before you apportion blame, let’s take time to understand the roles and responsibilities of the Board.
The most recent accusations have come from persons handling the treatment processes of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine and Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake.
The two legislators were allegedly tortured during the just concluded by-elections in Arua Municipality therefore required a second opinion as far as managing their injuries is concerned.
But without divulging into more details of events in Arua Municipality and also wrongly pointing fingers on who did what, let’s focus on the mandate of the Medical Board.
The Public Service Standing Orders 2010 outline one of the functions of the Uganda Medical Board as to authorize the referral of patients abroad for treatment.
The Standing Orders also direct that the Medical Board will be tasked with verifying and/or evaluating the merits of cases submitted by public service ministries, departments and local governments.
Specifically, it outlines the procedures for referral of a public servant and/or his family outside the country when no suitable treatment is available in Uganda; or a public officer recruited outside Uganda is no longer medically fit to serve in the Public Service of Uganda and has to be returned to his or her country of origin.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Health has finalised the drafting process of guidelines for referral abroad to guide and regulate the use of public and private funds in purchasing health services outside Uganda.
According to the guidelines, this is critical in balancing the rights of patients to access health care that may not be available in-country while ensuring the health services provided abroad are of quality and are cost-effective.
Therefore, the two legislators who are entitled to benefit from public funds for their treatment ought to be cleared by the Medical board before traveling for treatment abroad. The approval by the medical board is done upon a request from doctors treating the public official seeking to go for advanced treatment. This Board also has an obligation to protect private citizens who might want to seek for treatment abroad by advising them on the right medical centres and specialists abroad.
If any unfortunate events happen like dearth (one outcome of poor health) in a foreign country, then it becomes responsibility of our foreign embassies to handle . Again government through medical board offers due diligence to advise all Ugandans seeking treatment abroad of the right health units and specialist of particular ailments. This can help protect Ugandans from landing in hands of “fake” Doctors abroad.
The request should be prepared by a senior consultant, detailing the diagnosis for the patient and also naming the reason for referral that cannot be handled by local doctors in Uganda.
The clearance by the board can be equated to a travel visa and normally seeks to establish the country where the public official intends to get treatment, the hospital, cost of treatment, details and qualifications of the foreign medical team and the estimated treatment period.
With this information available, the patient is supposed to be examined by senior consultants at the Mulago National Referral Hospital or any other Regional Referral hospital who also prepare a report to enable the members of the 12-member Medical Board to make a decision.
After examinations, Mr. Kyagulanyi and Mr. Zaake were cleared to proceed for further treatment. This is after the duo accepted to be examined by the specialists at Mulago National Referral Hospital. However, it important to note that neither Mr kyagulanyi nor Mr Zaake applied to the Medical Board for referral. It is the Criminal Investigations Department of the Police that applied to have the two legislators examined by the Mulago specialists as part of the investigations into torture allegations.
However, I would like to state that the Board cannot deny any well-deserving patient from seeking treatment abroad.
More so, the health sector has registered major milestones in handling most of the complicated medical conditions and disease of the heart, brain and other body parts.
Senior consultants at Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) have been able to successfully treat patients in need of highly specialized open-heart surgeries known as coronary artery bypass grafting surgery. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is a type of surgery that improves blood flow to the heart. With this installed capacity, Dr. John Omagino, the Executive Director of UHI has repeatedly requested the Medical Board not to refer patients with heart conditions that can be handled by their specialists.
Also, the directorate of Neurosurgery at Mulago headed by Dr. Edgar Muhumuza, a senior consultant neurosurgeon reiterates Uganda’s capability in successfully handling the most complicated head and brain injuries.
Therefore, the Medical Board must ensure that tax payers’ money is not wasted on treating medical conditions that can be handled by our local senior consultants.
Last year, the Auditor General report indicated that at least Shs. 10.08 billion ($2.8m) was spent on the treatment of 140 senior government officials abroad in in hospitals in Kenya, South Africa, India, China, and United States in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In so doing, if medical referrals are not politicised, the Medical Board could save Uganda’s foreign exchange normally spent on treating public officials abroad while at the same time building more capacity for our local specialists.
The author is a Senior Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Health