Sembabule, where health centres are deathtraps

it is never a good thing to fall sick anywhere, but in Sembabule district, a very poor healthcare system means that the slightest illness can degenerate into a threat to life.

According to a mini-survey by The Observer, the situation is so bad some people now routinely prefer herbalists and praying to public and private health units here.
Ordinarily, one expects their lives to be saved or bettered when they fall sick and walk into a health centre, hospital or clinic for treatment. In Sembabule, however, a visit to majority of the private health units here is as good as moving closer to one’s grave – according to officials from Uganda’s Allied Health Professionals’ Council (AHPC).

Imagine a clinical officer attempting to clean a bed full of blood with his bare hands! If he does not know the implications of touching another person’s blood, would you trust them during a blood test or transfusion?

That was the shock that Michael Kayizzi, the central region AHPC coordinator, and a group of security personnel were treated to at Henry Fred Bamulanze’s Ssuubi health unit in Mateete town council. The officials were recently on an impromptu operation to scrutinise private health units in parts of Sembabule andMasaka districts.

Despite being merely a clinical officer, Bamulanze claimed to treat all illnesses. He was found with gargets that suggested he was both a gynaecologist as well as a dentist.

“This is the situation in the district but it shows that people’s lives here are in danger,” Kayizzi told The Observer.

“We instructed that man to close his facility a long time ago and get a licence prescribing the type of cases he must handle as a clinical officer but he declined.”

Bamulanze was, once again, ordered to close his clinic forthwith and remain closed for three months, as he looked for a license mandating him to operate. If he declines to adhere to this, Kayizzi said, Bamulanze’s qualification papers may be annulled. More surprises awaited the inspectors. Many health units closed on learning that the inspection was on. In the process, many patients were left locked inside these units.

At Kabundi trading centre in Mateete sub-county, David Matovu was forced to disappear into a nearby bush – leaving 78-year-old Cissy Mbagambamuhinda and a one Herman Sengendo stuck at his health unit. The two were advised to look for other, more professional health centres.

Similar conditions

In neighbouring Masaka, James Kibuule was found operating a clinic in his house, without a licence. Kibuule was once the in-charge of Kimwanyi health centre III for over ten years, before he abandoned his duty without informing district health officers. In addition to poorly disposing of used implements, Kibuule had patients sharing one bed, regardless of their sex or age.

“It is very unprofessional to admit patients of different sexes on the same bed or children sharing beds with adults but it is the order of the day in Kibuule’s clinic,” Kayizzi told The Observer.

Kibuule, however, accused Masaka district health officials of intentionally stepping on his toes by instructing officials from AHPC to intercept his work.

“They are envious of my success. When I was manning Kimwanyi health centre III, a government health unit for over ten years, they did not accuse me of not being qualified. Why are they doing it now after putting up a successful private unit?” Kibuule asked.

But Kayizzi explained that Kibuule abandoned his government duty after learning that operations were coming up to crack down all those who did not have relevant qualifications.

“During those days, it was easy for anyone to forge academic papers and land a government job not only in the health sector but even in other fields. We have learnt of a judge who lost his job for having forged academic documents,” Kayizzi said.

Back to Sembabule, Justine Nabadda was arrested from St Francis drug shop in Mateete town council and Scovia Asiimwe was found illegally operating as a nurse in Victoria health unit, also in Mateete.

They were all handed over to Mateete police station in Sembabule district while Justine Nabakooza, James Kibuule, Florence Nakiyimba and Rehma Nassamula, who were found illegally practising as health workers in Masaka district, were handed over to Masaka police station. They await prosecution. With such a sick private sector, one would expect to find solace in public health units.

But the situation is hardly any better.

Enough but absent

Unlike other districts which lack the required number of health workers paid by government, Sembabule has almost all the required health workers at all levels. The district health officer, Dr James Elima, says that in Sembabule, there are 95 per cent of the required health workers. But to his shock, most of them don’t turn up for their duties, despite the fact that they are fully paid by government.

He believes that this may be one of the reasons why most patients don’t make use of government health units and opt for private ones. He, however, says that although 70 per cent of the private health units in the district are legally recognised, 80 per cent of the people manning these units are quacks who are not eligible to make any attempt on treating human lives.

“The biggest challenge we are facing in this district is politics,” he said. “You may be shocked when a mere LC-1 official attacks you for closing an illegal health unit in his or her area.”

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