Today we had a peaceful demonstration. For more information, check out #payallinterns #payallmedicalinterns and #internsnotslaves on twitter.
For the year 2015/16 and a bit earlier, intern doctors were paid a monthly allowance of Uganda Sh.609,000 (about 180 dollars) from the Ministry of Health. Some internship sites provided accommodation, some didn’t (read Mulago, the National Referral Hospital). Some gave the interns an additional allowance, others didn’t. Even then, the allowance from the Ministry came after four months and the interns often had to take industrial action before receiving it as if to remind the ministry that they were indeed still at their posts and have been delivering their services for the previous four months.
Now shortly before the interns for the year 2016/17 were to report to their posts, the Ministry of Health amended their relationship with Medical interns as follows:
- THAT, medical interns who were previously on private sponsorship scheme while pursuing their Bachelors of Medicine and Bachelors of Surgery, will not be given their allowances in lieu of salary on that premise only.
- THAT, medical interns who were previously on Government sponsorship scheme while pursuing their Bachelors of Medicine and Bachelors of Surgery, are made to work for an extra two years of bonding after the mandatory one year before acquiring their practicing licenses.
This did not sit well with most interns leading to a strike that has lasted over three weeks now. And they called on all medical students to join them in the fight against modern day slavery, which is why a bunch of colleagues and I took to the streets to protest these oppressive amendments to the Medical Internship Guidelines. You can have a look at a copy of our petition to the Speaker of Parliament here.FINAL INTERNS PETITION
Now that you are up to speed with what is happening in Uganda’s Health Care System, let me get to the real message of this blog post.
So as we were marching through the town today, I remarked to someone that I probably didn’t have to be there demonstrating with everyone else, but that I was there for the privately sponsored students that did not have any prospects for financing their year-long internship, or the government sponsored students that were from really humble families and likewise didn’t have prospects for topping-up their finances during their year-long internship should they decide to bond with the government.
Didn’t I really need to be there today with everyone else affected by the new policies? But because I had a lot of faith in the mighty Bank of Daddy, I thought to myself, I don’t really need to be here.
So what happens when solidarity runs out, when we run out of favors to hand out to the less privileged, when we are beyond the tides and waves that plague the common man? Who remains to fight for the cause of the oppressed; no one!
And I think that this is the heart of all problems with our Health Care System, that the leaders think that they are doing us all a favor when they pay us what we are due or provide the services they are expected to by virtue of their positions in power. For example, the Permanent Secretary for Health at one time said that the Ministry could do without intern doctors and more recently the Minister for Health said that the Ministry was wasting money on medical interns. Interestingly though is that these people are medical doctors who at one time also did internship and now that they are beyond the suffering that plagues intern doctors, they have abandoned the cause for better working conditions for the interns. Anything they do now to alleviate the pain felt by interns is seen as a favor that they could as well decide to withhold.
Point is, forget solidarity. Though if solidarity is the main reason you will fight for a good cause, hold onto it with both hands and legs. In this universe of billions of galaxies, a galaxy with billions of planets and stars; on this planet, we’re all next door neighbors. Whatever we do impacts on somebody else and when our neighbors throw a loud party, we may find it hard to sleep. And things change, for example, the Bank of Daddy may file for bankruptcy or cease to exist altogether before my turn to do internship comes. Therefore we owe it to ourselves to fight for others because we might as well be fighting for ourselves.
Featured Image: Medical Students of Mbarara University and Technology marching along Kabale Highway during the demonstration.