The death of Dr Margaret Mungherera was and remains a tragic loss to Uganda and the entire global medical community.
We lost an outstanding and distinguished medical professional who dedicated her life to championing the cause of improved health service in Uganda and beyond. In writing the story and history of medical practice in Uganda and the world, the name and place of Dr Mungherera will always feature prominently.
In writing the story and history of psychiatry and mental health practice in Uganda, the name of Dr Mungherera will always be remembered with gratitude. In writing the story and history of Butabika National referral hospital, the name of Dr Mungherera will always shine bright.
In telling the story of breaking barriers and ceilings, Dr Mungherera will always provide an excellent example. Together with a number of Uganda physicians, we witnessed first-hand Dr Mungherera’s excellent credentials recognized with her unanimous election as president of the World Medical Association (WMA) at the WMA general assembly in Brazil in October 2013.
We all celebrated her victory – for it was a victory for Uganda, Africa, and the global medical community. Dr Mungherera was the second African to hold that post since WMA was formed in 1947. She was the third woman and first African woman to hold that post.
In her one year at the helm of WMA, she carried the flag of Uganda high wherever she went, preaching the message of the need to raise the quality of health service delivery and championing for improvement of the welfare of health workers.
In her 35 years of dedicated service as a medical doctor, psychiatrist and administrator, Dr Mugherera left a positive mark wherever she went. Upon completing her degree in medicine from Makerere Medical School in 1982, and an internship at Mulago hospital, she was posted to Butabika Mental Hospital as a medical officer.
In 1992, she became a psychiatrist, having attained a Masters of Medicine in Psychiatry from Makerere University. During her 25 years’ experience as a mental health professional, Dr Mungherera elevated the profile and role of psychiatry in the medical field to greater heights.
She made psychiatry become a reputable calling of medical service. As a result of her example and mentorship, today we have more young people choosing careers in psychiatry-related disciplines.
After 19 years at Butabika hospital, Dr Mungherera joined Mulago hospital, where she worked as a senior consultant psychiatrist. Dr Mungherera used her experience beyond the hospital by sharing her knowledge and expertise through teaching and mentorship.
She was, for instance, an honorary lecturer at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences, a council member of Gulu and Kampala International universities.She was also a board member of several non-profit organizations.
Dr Mungherera’s track record was unprecedented. In addition to the above, she served as the publicity secretary of the Association of Uganda Women Medical Doctors and was the first woman to serve as president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) – a post she held for six terms. She was also the vice president of the Commonwealth Medical Association for Eastern, Central and Southern Africa.
In 2000, as president of Uganda Medical Association, she led her counterparts in the East African countries to bring the regulatory councils and boards in the region to promote the quality of training and regulation of doctors and dental surgeons in the region.
As a result, there is now reciprocal recognition of doctors and dental surgeons, harmonized training programs for undergraduates and interns and, joint inspection and supervision of medical and dental schools.
Dr Mungherera stood for and advocated for improved health service delivery and for the improvement of the working conditions of health workers. She was a leading advocate for improving the welfare of health workers at all levels. This was a cause that was close to her heart which she spearheaded at every opportunity.
Government always appreciated her bold and constructive ideas on a number of issues –indeed several of her ideas and aspirations informed policy discussions that have led to our dedication and commitment to an improved health care system.
We aware that a lot more needs and must be done to address the challenges we still face to achieve an improved health care system that we deserve as a nation.
We are working on that, and will continue to do so. That is the best tribute we can and must pay in memory of Dr Mungherera’s service. On February 2, 2017, I visited Dr Mungherera at Nsambya hospital where she had been receiving treatment before being flown to India. She was in distress, but we hoped that she would get better. Sadly, it was not to be.
Dr Mungherera has been battling advanced cancer of the colon. She sadly lost the battle on Saturday February 4, 2017, coincidentally on World Cancer day!
We would like to thank her family for nurturing such a distinguished daughter of our country whose life, legacy and example we honour and celebrate. We share in the grief of this loss with the widower, Mr Richards Mushanga, the family, friends, colleagues, the nation and the world at large.
May her soul rest in eternal peace!
The author is the prime minister of Uganda.