By Henry D Gombya
At least 1000 Ugandan medical workers are set to be deployed in the war-torn Libyan second largest city of Benghazi after warring factions in Libya approached the Ugandan authorities with a request for health workers.
A Reuters report quotes Milton Turyasiima, Ugandan Commissioner of Employment Services who confirmed that Libya had approached Uganda asking for health workers. It has now become a norm for the Ugandan government to supply what many see as cheap labour to Arab countries. A lot of Ugandans are already serving in many Arab countries in various capacities and mostly as domestic servants. Social media is full of stories of such workers being badly treated by their Arab masters with reports of floggings, starvation and near-slavery being frequently mentioned by those who have gone there. Ugandans also serve in many Arab countries as security guards, airport workers, store clerks and in various posts. During a recent trip through the Abu Dhabi airport, I was shocked when a woman dressed in an Arab garb who was checking our passports approached me and spoke to me in perfect Luganda, my mother tongue. She was holding my passport and had realised I was a Ugandan she might have heard of.
A Reuters report says foreign recruiters and employers from the Middle East have increasingly turned to Uganda in search of cheap labour. The world wire service quoted Mr Turyasiima as saying: “We are now doing underground work. Our diplomatic people are trying to first establish the safety of the workers and the working conditions in Benghazi. If they finish that work today or tomorrow, then we’ll be ready to send these people.” The country’s health activists believe sending Ugandan health workers to Libya will further weaken the country’s struggling health system which currently stands in a sorry state. No new national hospital has been built since New Mulago Referral Hospital was completed in 1962. The Reuters report says years of underfunding, corruption and neglect have meant that the Ugandan health sector is largely dysfunctional with most public hospitals, often dilapidated and short of vital medical equipment, being understaffed with most health centres displaying empty shelves in their drug stores.
Health worker shortage kills Ugandans unnecessarily every day, Asia Russell, executive director of the public health pressure group Health GAP said. He added that the plan will make an already dire situation worse, intensifying suffering and preventable death. He suggested that the government should instead lift its freeze on public sector recruitment so that additional healthy workers are absorbed and deployed with tools to do their jobs where they are needed most.