Dr Antony Kabanza Mbonye died on July 25, 2021. Dr Mbonye’s death shocked the country. The country, however, does not need to mourn his passing.
We need to celebrate and learn lessons from what he has offered in medicine and literary works. Dr Mbonye published a book: Uganda’s Health Sector Through Turbulent Politics (1958-2018). This book traced Uganda’s modern medical history. It was also a bold book, which chronicled the politics and crisis of leadership in the health sector.
He didn’t care that the book would ruffle feathers, he cared that the health sector is in competent hands. The crisis, especially of incompetence, continues to dog health institutions.
Dr Mbonye believed meritocracy could not be replaced by anything else in the health sector. Mbonye was a person whose merit was never questioned for all the leadership positions he held.
The president of Uganda Medical Association, Dr Richard Idro talked about Mbonye in words that highlighted his indispensable deeds: “Dr Mbonye was one of the finest leaders of the health profession in Uganda. An accomplished doctor, public health physician, research scientist, teacher, mentor and role model to so many doctors.”
Another doctor who went through his hands described him as a polished gentleman. He added: “a brilliant epidemiologist. He fought Ebola, maternal mortality. He understood the health sector in Uganda so well.”
Perhaps Dr Asuman Lukwago, former permanent secretary in the ministry of Health, captured the true efforts of the man: “Prof Mbonye, you impacted positively on the health of women and the girl-child. You led fights against epidemics, you taught, published and planned for the health of Ugandans”. How ironic that a person who taught, planned and fought epidemics dies at the time when Uganda seems clueless in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Precisely this is the point Mbonye made in his book.
He wrote that the health sector was being managed by inexperienced officers. Little wonder then that, the Health ministry has been placed under a harsh spotlight afflicted by malfeasance and misfeasance. In a tweet, the ministry of Health too acknowledged that Mbonye’s immense contribution to the health sector will never be forgotten. It is strange that Uganda only values dead heroes.
Mbonye lived a distinguished life but the ministry of Health never allowed him to use his skills to improve the health of Ugandans. He was hounded out of office of the director general of Health Services in 2018 (He resigned out of frustration).
In the foreword to his book (mentioned above) Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, himself a medical doctor, then prime minister, wrote: “We learn an essential lesson that managers of the health sector require experience, the knowledge and most importantly, the skills to manage human resources for better health outcomes.” Unfortunately, there seems to be no lessons learnt.
Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Prof Mbonye, rest in peace; you did well to fight intrigue and improve the health of Ugandans.