As medical workers in government hospitals and health centres elsewhere continued to strike, the situation at Moroto regional referral hospital was different.
When The Observer visited the facility at the height of the national strike, all departments were busy with medical workers attending to patients. In the maternity ward, Maria Katende, who was delivered through caesarean section two days earlier, said she was not even aware of the medical workers’ strike countrywide.
“When I reached here on Monday night, I found midwives who called the doctor for my operation. I am hearing about this [strike] from you,” she told me. “For this hospital, we see all medical workers working normally.”
The ward was, indeed, busy with mothers in labour, some being delivered and others being discharged. Among those was 30-year-old Ruth Liko, who had had a normal delivery the previous day.
Constansia Alela, the senior nursing officer in charge of the maternity ward, said she was aware of the strike, but could not join colleagues, because that would potentially lead to the loss of innocent lives.
“You can’t leave mothers to deliver alone; that would lead to the increase of maternal and neonatal deaths,” she said.
“Even if in future they increase your salary and yet you have lost lives, you will feel it for the rest of your life. We have to continue working as we claim for our rights.”
Alela said her striking colleagues should “have a heart for human beings”, because the industrial action can affect even their relatives.
The strike started on November 7 countrywide with health workers protesting low remuneration and poor working conditions, among other grievances. The senior hospital administrator, James Otim, declined to talk to The Observer, but referred me to the acting director, Dr Alfred Francis Ogwang, who was, however, in the operation theatre when I visited the hospital.
Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (Accu), who was in Moroto for the launch of Karamoja Anti-Corruption Coalition, said there are evident salary discrepancies among public servants, which need to be addressed.
“When you look at the salaries our MPs earn, you find it ironical when parliament tells medical workers to be patriotic,” she said. “The government might not be having the money to pay all the striking workers, but the issue of harmonizing salaries is paramount.”