|The Uganda Medical Workers Union, an umbrella association of about 20,000 health workers in the country, has asked scores of under-resourced and unprotected medics attending to Ebola patients in the worst hit Uganda’s western district of Bundibugyo to leave immediately.
“All (health) workers who are not provided with protective gear should not work on suspected Ebola cases and (should) leave straight away,” the Union chairman Dr Apollo Nyangasi said on Thursday.
The recall comes a day after Dr Jonah Kule, a medical officer at Bundibugyo Hospital, his junior Joshua Kule, a senior clinical officer, Ms Rose Bulimpikya, a matron at the same hospital and another unnamed nurse, who all contracted the haemorrhagic fever from patients they were treating, died.
They bring to 18 the cumulative number of medics lost to Ebola since its outbreak in Gulu in 2000 in which at least 14 nurses died on duty alongside Dr Mathew Lukwiya, the then Medical Superintendent of Lacor hospital, who has since been declared a national hero.
“Losing one health worker,” Dr Nyangasi said, “means endangering the lives of over 15, 000 people since the ratio of health workers to the population is 1: 15, 000 and we call upon government to be proactive in cases of epidemics but not reactionary like now”.
Early this week, overstretched nurses at Bundibugyo hospital momentarily halted work over delayed payment of their risk allowances prompting local leaders to pay only part of the total bill. Each doctor, nurse and other support staff were paid Shs 30, 000, Shs 20, 000 and Shs 10, 000 respectively.
The workers body now says government should immediately increase the risk allowances to Sh50, 000 per day for all cadres of health workers.
“Those (medical staff) who have no protective gear and are not sure of the risk allowance being paid should leave straight away,” Nyangasi insisted.
He said public health workers had a right to pull out from highly hazardous working environment under provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006.
Section 37 of the said legislation provides thus: “A (health) worker who removes him or herself from a situation which he or she has reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to his or her life or health shall not be punished or subjected to undue consequences, provided the danger is confirmed by the Commissioner (of labour)”.
A new strain of the deadly Ebola virus has infected 93 people and killed at least 22 in Uganda.
Dr Sam Zaramba the government’s director of health services said: “The total number of suspected cases is now 93 that fit the definition,” he said.
“Twenty two have died. Out of them, four (are) health workers, one a doctor. He died in Mulago.” Only 58 cases have so far been confirmed in laboratory tests, the government says. But more people falling ill and a rising death toll since the outbreak started in August has caused panic in the country.
The government confirmed the fever was Ebola a week ago.
Dr Nyangasi said “serious measures” had to be taken to re-awaken government to the raging plight of the few qualified medical personnel.