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Medical interns strike again over two months allowance arrears

KAMPALA: Medical interns across the country have vowed not to return to work until government clears their allowance arrears for the months of March and April.

The interns including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists attached to different government hospitals who also offer clinical services in the understaffed health facilities as part of their training, said they kick-started their strike on Friday midnight.

Dr Robert Lubega, the interns’ President of the 2017/2018 cohort, said their colleagues at the Soroti Regional Referral Hospital in Eastern Uganda are worse off as they have not received their allowances since December despite several engagements with the concerned parties.

“As medical interns 2017-2018, we have laid down our tools as we await government response towards our plight. Through the engagement of our leadership umbrella, the national interns’ executive, we will be glad to continue engagement with the various stakeholders for improved welfare,” Dr Lubega said at a press conference held at Mulago’s Galloway Hostel on Tuesday.

As a result, Dr Lubega, said many of their colleagues have been evicted from their rental houses since more than half of all interns are not accommodated at the sites, not fed, but entirely depend on allowances, which makes it hard for them to meet their daily expenses if they are not paid.

“Only six out of 35 sites have received payment for March and this has been done by using different portions of these hospitals’ budgets,” he said, stating that the sites include; Mbarara, Jinja, Masaka regional referral hospitals as well as Entebbe and Kagando General Hospitals.

Medical interns have on several occasions laid down their tools over delayed allowances, something Ministry of Health has always attributed to the quarterly budgetary remittances by the finance ministry.

The ministry had last year in November committed to start paying the interns on a monthly basis as opposed to the quarterly as one of the conditions that medical doctors put across to suspend their three-week strike.

However, although the intern doctors say they were also joined by the nurse interns, Daily Monitor has visited Mulago National Referral Hospital and the latter were seen on duty in some of wards like the casualty.

Mr Enock Kusasira, the Mulago Hospital spokesperson said that the impact of the interns’ strike is ‘not that serious’ and that it was too early to assess, indicating that they are [as Mulago] trying all they can to have interns paid and return to work.

When contacted, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the health minister expressed disappointment about the doctors’ decision to strike despite the ministry’s earlier communication to the group about the circumstances under which the money delayed.

“It’s a pity that our young doctors now believe that its only strike that can get them paid. It’s so unfortunate. We communicated to them that there was a delay in the release of funds but as soon as it comes, they will have to be paid. It is very unfortunate,” said Dr Aceng said.

She referred this reporter to Dr Diana Atwiine, the ministry permanent secretary, over the actual date when the money is expected be remitted.

In her explanation, Dr Atwiine stated that the Finance Ministry had advised them to re-allocate money from their budget, but “it’s also a process which ministry of finance needs to approve,so we are waiting for them to approve.”

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