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Defiant doctors 'maintain strike' despite govt order

Despite last night’s government order, the striking medical workers have vowed not to return to work until their grievances are addressed. 

Yesterday night the health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng ordered all the striking medical workers to resume work immediately or else face the sack.

Aceng said President Museveni had ordered all Resident District Commissioners (RDC) to supervise health centres in their respective areas and make note of absentee doctors for further disciplinary action.

Defiant: The medical doctors have said they will maintain their industrial action

In response today, under their umbrella body, the Uganda Medical Association, the defiant doctors instead threatened to even withdraw the emergency medical services they are currently offering if government continues threatening them. Currently, the medical workers in government hospitals are only working on pregnant women and patients with emergency needs.

On Monday this week, the medical workers laid down their tools in protest against low pay and government’s failure to provide equipment and medicines in health facilities.

Dr Ekwaru Obuku, president of Uganda Medical Association (UMA) said today that they are not cowed by the threats from government as that was expected anyway.

He said government is the mother and chief organiser of health strikes in the country by not providing enough resources in terms of medicines and equipment to the health sector.

Obuku said they are following the World Medical Association guidelines and will continue providing skeleton health workers to provide emergency medical services.

“During industrial action actually patients die less or the number remains about the same”, he said.

“One thing I need to make very very clear is that the chief striker…the chief organiser of all mother of strikes in the health sector is the government itself…If you go to Kabale referral hospital and the hospital has six doctors  instead of over 20. Who is organising that strike, isn’t the government?”, Obuku asked.

In issuing out the orders to medical workers yesterday, Aceng said all medical interns who have been "misled" into joining the industrial action have no option but to return to work, else they will have to forfeit the missed days and will have to reapply again for internship. But UMA says participation in industrial action doesn’t legally warrant any worker’s sacking.

The doctors maintained that interns cannot work without the supervision of the medical workers in the hospital. Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo said industrial action is a legal right protected under Article 40 of the 1995 Constitution.

“Our interpretation is that anybody who attempts to punish, threaten or intimidate a doctor taking part in this industrial action is actually overthrowing the Constitution of Uganda [and] should be arrested for treason - possibly a citizens arrest by the doctors themselves. We’re more than them and we don’t want to start using needles and syringes to catch them”, Obuku said.

Obuku said as medical workers they are ready for talks with government and that threatens are not what they are after but rather finding a lasting resolution to the issues raised. 

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd