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The executive director of the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) at Mulago hospital, Dr Alex Coutinho, has advised the government to reward students committed to rural service with government scholarships, as a way of motivating them to stay on the job.

Coutinho, who was chief guest at the fourth graduation ceremony of the Namuwongo-based International Health Sciences University (IHSU) recently, explained that several African countries were losing health workers to the west due to insufficient pay and poor working conditions.

“It is sad to see migration of health workers from rural areas with insufficient health workers to the urban areas,” Coutinho said.

He explained that the migration of health workers was a global problem, citing cases in the Philippines, Mexico and the UK, all heading to the USA. He said more Ugandan health workers were migrating to the Middle East, Europe and USA.

Coutinho urged the graduates to stay in Uganda and serve in rural communities for a few years, where their skills are needed most.

“As health workers, we need to regard our profession as a calling to help those who need our skills, comfort and offer compassion to free people from pain,” he said.

Coutinho’s advice was backed by the IHSU Chancellor, Justice Julia Sebutinde, who also urged the government to consider rewarding more categories of health workers.

“It is a big shame there is no structure within the ministry of Public Service to recognise the degrees in public health and other credentials that our graduates worked so hard to achieve,” Sebutinde said. “Uganda needs to get its policies and priorities right,” or risk losing more of its health workers to other countries.

During the ceremony, the new vice chancellor, Prof Scott James Brown, was installed, and 229 students graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Public Health, Business Administration, Nursing, among others.

Of these, 111 were male and 118 female while five students passed with first-class degrees.

“Your career journey has just begun, but you need continued professional development that will keep you out of courts of law,” Prof Brown said, in his inaugural address.

The IHSU founder, Dr Ian Clarke, commended former Vice Chancellor Dr Nick Wooding for helping the university acquire land to accommodate more students.

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