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MPs want constitutional right to health

Health activists say that patients' rights are routinely violated.
Health activists say that patients' rights are routinely violated.

The promoters of the Patients' Rights and Responsibilities Bill, 2017 have said that after it has been passed into law, they will introduce a proposal to amend Article 22 of the Constitution to give force to the right to health.

The article stipulates that no person shall be deprived of life intentionally except in execution of a sentence passed in a fair trial by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda.

Presenting a motion to introduce the bill to Parliament on Tuesday, Busiki MP Paul Akamba said the bill seeks to improve healthcare services and empower patients to understand their rights and responsibilities in accessing healthcare services.

The bill was first introduced by former Kigulu South MP, Milton Muwuma, during the ninth Parliament, but the legislator failed to secure a certificate of financial implication.

Addressing journalists at parliament today, Akamba revealed that once this bill is passed, the law will ensure the government increases the amount of money for the health budget.

Although Uganda is party to the 2001 Abuja Declaration where members pledged to allocate at least 15 per cent of national budgets to the health sector, Uganda still allocates not more than 8 per cent to the sector.

“We are moving towards amending Article 22 [of the Constitution] which provides a right to life, but not a right to health,” he said. “Once that is done, we shall ensure the government allocates sufficient funds to the health sector.”

Akamba argues that whereas all Ugandans are potential patients, there is no legal framework that protects the rights of patients and spell out their duties.

Noting that 75 per cent of the disease burden in Uganda is preventable, health activists say violation of patients’ rights and ignorance of their responsibilities are a daily reality.

They argue that the legislative gap coupled with poor health workers’ conditions leave patients with no legal redress, leading to an increased disease burden and high cost of healthcare.

Ngora MP David Abala said the bill will, among other things, address professionalism by health workers which, he said, was lacking.

Referring to the recent industrial action by doctors, Abala said although medical workers were concerned with their welfare, “nobody was talking about the rights of the patients”.

Among the civil society activists in support of the bill is Robinah Kaitiritimba, the executive director of Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation.

Kaitiritimba says as health activists, they are in support of the bill because “it is a mechanism to regulate a relationship between healthcare seekers and healthcare providers”.

Akamba, Andrew Kaluya (Kigulu South) and Abala were granted leave of parliament to work on the bill for consideration by Parliament.

matsiko@observer.ug

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