14 Days of Horror For Patients as Doctors’ Strike

  • by Rodney Mponye
  • December 8, 2021

The on-and-off-again medical workers’ strike, which began on November 22, has complicated many a patient’s life and access to medical treatment.

Interviews with dozens of patients and some employees in government referral hospitals and health centers worst hit by the strike, painted a more complicated picture that is deeply alarming.

Racheal who queued for hours at Kiruddu General Referral hospital, Kawempe, for treatment was crushed by the loss of life during the strike.

“People lost dear ones in that three-day strike because I saw two people within the same room collapsing to death due to lack of medical attention and treatment. I plead with the government to sort out the doctors’ issues,” she said.

Originally, word went around that leaders of the medical workers association had double-knotted an agreement with the government to call off the strike. But on November 5, the leadership issued a statement saying, “Doctors overwhelmingly decided to continue with the current industrial action and stay at home until at least some of their demands are met.”

“These demands to be implemented right away include; the interns and senior house officers’ salary increment as directed by the president this year, duty-free cars for medical doctors and the fulfillment of the Shs 4 billion pledge to the SACCO as directed by the president,” the statement said.

In 2017 and in June 2021, President Museveni ordered that doctors’ salaries be increased from Shs 2.5 million to Shs 5 million. Dr Hebert Luswata, the association’s secretary-general, said in a recent interview that medical workers are determined to stay away from work until the government fulfills its promises.

“We went on strike because of lack of medical supplies in government hospitals, the government’s failure to increase our salaries as promised by President Yoweri Museveni in 2017, and lack of health insurance,” he said.

Interviewed about the strike, a cleaner at Kiruddu hospital, Kawempe, who declined to be named to speak freely, said the second day of the strike was depressing.

“I saw five people dead and the condition of three patients I knew worsened. One was moved to a private hospital immediately.”

“I saw the first man who died on his sickbed. I think he was 40 years old. He had no caretaker. I thought he died in the morning. People near him said he seemed to be diabetic. They heard him shivering and banging his bed but later he settled. So, they thought he had either fainted or had stabilized. He died. There was no emergency nurse or anyone to help him. Nurses who check on patients in the morning noticed him…” she said, adding, “Another patient died between 10 am and 11am (on Tuesday, November 23). He had been waiting for his injection. He told his caretakers that he was not feeling fine. He asked them to call some people so he could say his last words. The caretakers said he had missed one drip and his family had run out of money for medication…” she said.

“A young man of about 15 years of age was brought in injured after an accident. He had internal bleeding. There was no doctor around. The nurses helped and administered the first drip. The young man thought he would be okay but the nurse told him he may be bleeding internally. The nurse assured him that an examination will be done by a doctor. After waiting for a long time, the young man started feeling bad inside. He called for help. The nurses urged him to wait for a doctor. He waited a little longer but the pain persisted. He fell off the bed, spit blood, and later died. This is all because there was no doctor,” she said.

Musa said he took his sick wife to Kiruddu.

“We sat for hours waiting for medical attention in vain. After some time, another patient told us the doctors were on strike. We ended up in a private clinic, spending more than we had budgeted for,” he said.

Interviewed, Mama Namale, a patient at Kiruddu hospital, said; “We are really in bad shape. Look at me, I am a woman and surely if the government doesn’t mind about paying medical workers, what shall we do, we the low-income earners who use government health centers for safe delivery and other treatment?”

She said she had to pay an extra Shs 60,000 to get treatment in a facility that is supposed to be free of charge. Juma Mugumya, a diabetic, who needs a booster injection every day, said he struggled to get one free-of-charge during the strike.

“We were about to die, we who were in the queue waiting for the injection. Some people started getting complications, people fainted, vomited and some were forced to look elsewhere for help,” Mugumya said.

“What these medical workers have done is too big for us and we are now hopeless. It’s too big, if you mix diabetes with Covid-19, aren’t we going to die for sure? Let the government help us. We diabetic people are going to die, those suffering from HIV/ Aids are going to die too,” he added.

Francis Kakeeto said the government shouldn’t always wait for medical workers to strike to intervene.

“I regret and blame the government for everything I went through at Kiruddu hospital. I went with my sick relative at 9am but she received treatment in the evening. Now imagine if she had complicated diseases…” he said.

Janet Kakooza, who is six months pregnant, said she spent three days at Kiruddu hospital, Kawempe, without seeing a doctor.

“I needed more medication and a scan to check the health status of my unborn baby. But for three days I went to the hospital, I couldn’t see a doctor. On the last day, all patients paid extra fees to be attended to. I paid Shs 30,000 but still, I couldn’t see a doctor. My husband took me to a private clinic,” Janet said.

Jonah Yiga, a patient at Kiruddu hospital, said, “We are not saying that government shouldn’t pay them better. Let government address their concerns but people are dying just because they can’t get treatment. I saw a parent with a child who seemed to have heart disease. In the morning when they arrived, the child had convulsed and seemed to be out of breath. In the afternoon, the parent was advised to go to a private hospital before the child’s situation worsened.”

Sarah spent a week at Mulago hospital taking care of her husband. Interviewed, she said her husband didn’t get any treatment for muscle pain and abdominal pain.

“I am really worried because no doctor was available to attend to us. We opted to buy medicine to improvise but that did not help. My husband is still sick yet I don’t have money to take him to private hospitals. I appeal to the government to help sort out the medical workers’ concerns because we the poor cannot afford private hospitals,” Sarah said.

Dr Stephen Kikwalo, who owns a private clinic, said initially he was delighted to receive more patients but later got overwhelmed.

“I remember between November 22 and 24, I got over 16 patients each day. Some needed treatment and services which I couldn’t offer like scans and blood transfusion. I couldn’t work on them,” Kikwalo added.

Kikwalo, however, condemned the doctors’ strike.

“Among the patients I received, two of them nearly died because one of them had aborted and needed immediate and special attention but I couldn’t offer much due to my specialty. I assisted with minimal surgery that saved the patient. If it wasn’t for my quick treatment, she would have over bled and died due to the doctors’ strike…” he said.


A statement released by the State House indicated that the president directed that all doctors should be employed as soon as they qualify and emphasized that the government is fully committed to providing enhanced salaries not only to medical personnel but to all scientists.

“All medical doctors should be employed by the government once they complete their studies. The ministry of Health should move forward with the program of employing more health personnel. The government is fully committed to personnel protection while they perform their duties. We have the role of providing personal protection equipment. It is logical to provide the essential medical facilities as opposed to giving out risk allowances,” he said.


The Observer