A government plan to make the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) an independent institution from Mulago has moved closer to reality.
This follows the tabling of a bill in Parliament that will give legal powers to the institute to operate independently of Mulago hospital. Speaking at a recent press conference at the institute, Dr John Omagino, the institute’s director, said: “Government has accepted to make us an autonomous institution by an act of parliament.”
This, according to Dr Omagino, will make their programmes more visible, with powers to lobby for funding.
“We have been facing challenges in terms of the law to provide human resource, the law to provide specialized equipment and working environment, and the law to procure the necessary goods. But after sharing our challenges with government, they thought it important to make us independent,” Dr Omagino said.
“Working under the mainstream [hospital] has been a problem. You can’t take a loan for construction because you are under someone. But they are now pulling us out as an autonomous body, which will give us leverage on recruiting our own human resource and setting our terms, and being able to mobilize funds for our own development and activities.”
As a result, the institution will have its own home in or outside Mulago. According to Dr Omagino, the institute is currently underfunded, with government funding meeting only 10 per cent of its operational costs, which translates into about 100 surgeries annually. Yet the institute has capacity for at least 1,000 surgeries annually.
One percent (16,000) of the 1.6 million babies born every year have heart problems. Of the 16,000 at least 50 per cent (8,000 babies) require intervention to live a meaningful life.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to reach all those children,” Dr Omagino says.
“There is a big backlog. Many children are loitering around hospitals, shrines, churches and homes in need of help.”
Open-heart surgery, where the heart is stopped and the problem corrected, costs $5,000 (Shs 13m) at the institute, which is far below the cost abroad, which Dr Omagino puts at $20,000. The closed-heart surgery for minor problems that don’t necessitate opening of the heart costs $1,000 (Shs 2.8m). But still few parents can afford this fee, leaving the institution depending on donations to do operations.
At the press conference, the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) handed over Shs 14m to the institute to facilitate the operation of these children. The money was raised from last year’s martyrs’ walk. Of this Shs 14m, MTN contributed Shs 6m, Uganda Communications Commission Shs 5m, and Bank of Uganda Shs 3m. Turkish Airlines also offered a return ticket worth $3,000 to any of the destinations in Europe to the patients.
According to Dr Omagino, the institute receives about 1,000 children every year who come for heart problem diagnosis. And for the last two years, they have a total of 900 children who need urgent operation, but because of lack of money, they are on the ‘waiting list.’
“The actual word is that they are on death row because their parents cannot afford $1,000,” said John Ssempebwa, the deputy CEO UTB.
UTB had targeted raising $200,000, which is enough to save about 200 children with heart problems, but they only raised Shs 14 m, which according to Dr Omagino can only meet costs for five children.