By Gladys Kigozi
It is every woman’s wish to have a healthy child but mothers in greater Mukono are crying foul over the unlawful solicitation of immunisation and maternal fees at the government health facilities which puts their lives and of the babies at stake.
Betty Namusoke, a mother of four and a resident of Bugujju Village in Mukono Municipality, narrated that she went to Mukono General Hospital (a government facility) to immunise her baby but she was shocked when a staff on duty asked for Shs5000 so that she can immunise her baby.
She says that she had not even a single coin on her since Covid-19 has greatly affected her to the extent that she lost her stall of vegetables and struggles a lot to feed her children. She adds that sometimes they sleep on empty stomachs.
Namusoke further says that she had no option but to borrow from a friend the following day, and that is when the baby was able to get immunised.
Namusoke is not alone because many mothers are crying foul. Another one who preferred not to disclose her identity narrates that she was forced to pay the same amount of money to immunise her baby.
She narrates that she had declined to pay but she was forced to change her mind after the staff had totally refused to attend to her baby. When she asked for an explanation as to why they are being charged, the response was that it was a public holiday and that “we need something for lunch at least”, in this case they referred to a bribe.
She goes on to say that many babies missed immunisation on that day because mothers had no money to pay for the service and she calls on the authorities to intervene.
We tried to get a comment from the hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Geoffrey Kasirye, but he was out of office and did not pick our calls.
We also contacted the District Health Officer (DHO), Dr Stephen Mulindwa, who said that he was not aware of it. “It is a serious matter which requires urgent attention,” he said.
At Kawolo General Hospital, in Buikwe District, there is a mother who raised a complaint over the unlawful solicitation of maternal fees.
Harriet Kwagala, a mother of four and a resident of Mulajje Village in Nkokonjeru Town Council, told us that she went to this facility to give birth on 21st July 2021, but she failed to have a normal delivery and had to go in for an emergency C – section.
She narrates that the staff on duty asked for Shs250,000 before she could be operated on. Kwagala and the husband paid Shs150,000 that very night and asked the staff to offer her service, promising to bring the remaining balance the following morning.
Kwagala says the staff refused to attend to her not until they raised an alarm to Initiative for Social & Economic Rights (ISER) which came that morning and intervened, that is when she was operated on.
She says life has been very painful since the outbreak of Covid-19 because her husband, Enoch Kafuma, a boda boda rider, sometimes fails to buy food for the family and that their three children are now stuck at home with no schooling.
The ISER executive director, Ms Salima Namusobya, intervened in the matter and wrote to the facility’s Medical superintendent, Dr Joshua Kiberu, requesting him to address acts of unlawful solicitation of medical fees from mothers seeking maternal health care.
In the letter, she says this is not the only case as many similar cases have been forwarded to them.
“Soliciting money pushes women who cannot afford the fees away from health facilities, thereby re-entrenching backstreet birthing which increases maternal mortality and morbidity. We, therefore, demand Kawolo hospital administration to initiate investigations into the matter, redress the violations within a period of one month. Failure to do so ISER is to take legal action,” she said.
Dr Kiberu said it is true he received ISER’s letter but he could not take either a disciplinary or administrative action because the letter does not mention the implicated staff members and he cannot know who was on duty that very day.
However, he has advised locals to always report such cases to the administration, saying the victim never reported anything.
The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Health, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyona, says soliciting money from the patients is illegal and not acceptable because the government provides its facilities with medical equipments and medicines needed in treating Ugandans.
The soliciting of fees at a public health facility is a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to health and life.