Uganda set to send health workers to war-torn Libyan city of Benghazi

A cross section of Ugandan women at the Waltham Square, protesting against trafficking of girls and the inhumane conditions they endure in Saudi Arabia
A cross section of Ugandans at the Waltham Square in Boston, Massachusetts, protesting against the trafficking of girls and the inhumane conditions they endure in Saudi Arabia

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.

2 thoughts on “Uganda set to send health workers to war-torn Libyan city of Benghazi

  • June 19, 2017 at 10:18 am
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    Having sold everything over the decades, the government of Yoweri Museveni has now resorted to human trafficking as another source of income. It is a disgrace for a country which has no capable health infrastructure to be exporting the few trained and experience health workers to other countries especially countries such as Libya with ongoing civil war. Ugandans have lost lives in Somalia and South Sudan all in search of additional funding for the president pockets. Now, they are on their way to Libya to face another imminent death. If Uganda has such a surplus of health workers, why are hospitals in Uganda especially those run by governments have no sufficient workers?

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  • June 22, 2017 at 6:12 am
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    Considering that Libya has not fully recovered from the downfall of the Muammar Gadaffi Regime, which implies that our Health workers lives are inadvertently exposed to the risks associated with Political instability is itself testament to the attitude we have towards our health-workers. I think – by and large, low health-workers’ pay has fueled Medical Brain Drain in Uganda and its high time this issue was looked into. We’ve grappled with this problem for quite a while now. The Health workers that stay in the country are concentrated in urban centers – leaving the rural areas without commensurable health coverage since the government remuneration cannot attract them anyway. It now cyclical and until a systems thinking approach is employed to address this situation, the situation is least likely to change. We train these health workers to improve our Health-Care System, Quality of Care and, keeping the Standard of Care in mind as well. Our Doctor to Patient Ratio as a Nation is crippling. Either we are building a healthcare force for the country or stuck in the cyclical pattern of incessant Medical Brain Drain.

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