By Malik Fahad Jjingo
In a commendable act of international collaboration, a renowned Korean foundation has made a significant contribution towards improving healthcare and emergency response services in Uganda.
Masaka region stands as a primary beneficiary of the generous donation because of its pressing healthcare needs. The foundation’s generous donation includes ambulances, vehicles, and an array of medical equipment.
This gesture not only uplifts the region but also greatly bolsters Uganda’s overall capacity to cater to its citizens during medical emergencies.
The donation from the government of the Republic of Korea came through the Korean Foundation for International Healthcare and signifies a substantial step in fortifying the bond between the two countries, with health and well-being at its core.
Dr. Diana Atwiine, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, received the donation including two ambulances, station wagons, and medical kits for Village Health Teams (VHTs), among other items in Masaka, recently.
Atwiine also inaugurated a cutting-edge digital X-ray machine and CT Scan at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital during the same event. Additionally, KOFIH presented two ambulances as donations to Ntusi Health Center IV in Sembabule and Gombe Health Center IV in Butambla district.
This was in conjunction with the construction of a surgical ward, theatre, and maternity ward at Butenga Health Center IV in Bukomansimbi district. KOFIH also made an additional contribution by providing medical kits for Village Health Teams (VHTs).
Furthermore, they generously gave two double cabin pickups to the districts of Masaka and Bukomansimbi, along with two others allocated to the Ministry of Health. These efforts were aimed at enhancing and fortifying community health services.
The Korean Government has continually assisted the country across various initiatives. These encompass emergency medical services in Masaka and Bukomansimbi, the tuberculosis (TB) project, health worker training, support for Village Health Teams (VHTs), as well as the provision of medical supplies and vehicles, among other generous donations.
Atwine emphasised that these contributions have significantly enhanced the delivery of healthcare services within the nation. “We appreciate the health workers and VHTS for their determination to work in challenging environments. We need to continue fostering this by taking care of the sick,” she appealed.
The Ministry made the strategic choice to collaborate with KOFIH to bolster community efforts in disease detection and prevention.
The aim is to engage with the community to reduce the prevalence of diseases by addressing issues such as blood pressure and hypertension management, sanitation coverage, and promoting family planning, among other health concerns. This proactive approach aimed to emphasise prevention through early disease detection and prompt treatment.
Dr. James Elima, the Director of Masaka Regional Referral Hospital, expressed his gratitude to KOFIH for their capacity-building initiatives. He acknowledged that KOFIH had successfully trained more than 540 individuals in emergency care, in addition to various other training programs they had conducted in the region.
Elima emphasised that these efforts had significantly contributed to saving lives, particularly for individuals involved in car accidents within the region.
With a total of 31 ambulances now available in the region, including both private and public ones, Elima said the addition of these two new ambulances gives them renewed optimism that service delivery will experience further enhancements.
“We are actively engaged in discussions with the owners of these ambulances to encourage them to allow tracking devices to be installed. This way, we can monitor all of them through our dashboard for efficient follow-up. By implementing this system, we aim to prevent any instances of ambulance misuse in our region.” he added.
Dr. Abed Bwanika, the Member of Parliament for Kimanya Kabonera Municipality, extended his appreciation to KOFIH for their valuable support to the country. He urged the hospital administration to ensure the effective utilisation of the equipment provided to the hospital, as well as to the districts that received ambulances and vehicles.
However, Bwanika also emphasised the importance of considering the fees charged for the services offered. He pointed out that at times, these fees can act as a barrier, limiting access to the equipment and services provided by the referral hospital for certain members of the local community.
KOFIH Project Manager
Prichard Kavuma, the Senior Project Manager at KOFIH Uganda Office, explained that the project during which these items were given out under the Health Systems Strengthening Project focused on Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Uganda and the Capacity Building for Community Health Workers(CHW) in the Central Region of Uganda
He elaborated on the emergency medical services project, which has an estimated budget of approximately 3.8 million dollars and has been in operation since 2017, slated to conclude later this year.
Additionally, he detailed the community health workers project, which began in 2021 and is set to run until 2025. This particular project has a portfolio of 3.3 million dollars, and a portion of these funds has been allocated to various initiatives.
“The 986 medical kits given to VHTs will help them do their work well and reduce the communicable and non-communicable diseases from community level which will in turn reduce the burden of congestion of patients in higher-level facilities which improves the quality of health care services” he added.
KOFIH’s Acting Country Representative, Dohoon KIM, expressed his appreciation for the strong friendship between the two countries, highlighting that donations like these play a vital role in strengthening this bond.
He extended his gratitude to the implementing partners of Masaka Referral Hospital. In his remarks, he also recalled the words of the former Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, who believed that KOFIH was established in 2006 in the spirit of fostering international cooperation and support in the realm of healthcare.
He went on to remind the audience of a powerful statement made by Dr. Lee Jong-Wook: “Do the right thing, in the right place, and in the right way.”
KIM emphasised the importance of preserving Dr. Lee Jong-Wook’s legacy and spirit, encouraging all present to remain mindful of the true reason for their gathering – to care for and serve the people in need.
Jung-Eun LEE, the Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Uganda, emphasised that the generous donation symbolises the unwavering commitment and enduring friendship between Korea and Uganda.
She lauded the partnership that was initiated in 2017, describing it as highly remarkable. LEE underlined the critical role of health in the well-being of Ugandans and stressed that the collaborative endeavours between the two nations would contribute significantly to the overall development of the local healthcare system.
According to LEE, KOFIH will continue reaching out to the people of Uganda to provide robust support to the Ministry of Health. LEE expressed her gratitude towards the individuals responsible for implementing the various projects that KOFIH carries out in the country.
Notably, under the EMS project supported by KOFIH, Masaka Regional Referral Hospital serves a total of 12 districts, including Butambala, Gomba, Masaka City, and the former Greater Masaka districts, demonstrating the far-reaching impact of these collaborative efforts.
In the relentless pursuit of improving health emergency response, authorities within the Ministry of Health are taking decisive action to address a persistent and alarming challenge, the misuse of state ambulances.
Ambulances are specialised vehicles designed to transport sick or injured individuals, often to a medical facility such as a hospital or clinic. They are equipped with medical equipment and trained personnel to provide immediate medical care and support while en route to the healthcare facility.
Typically, they feature emergency medical equipment such as stretchers, medical supplies, oxygen tanks, defibrillators, and communication devices to ensure that patients receive appropriate care during transport.
However, these vehicles are frequently abused by their custodians or operators hence affecting people in urgent need of their life-saving services. They are often rented by affluent individuals to navigate through traffic congestion, facilitate the smuggling of contraband, and engage in illicit activities, thereby failing to fulfil their genuine purpose and tragically resulting in the loss of lives.
The impact of such misuse extends far beyond the immediate transgressions and strikes at the core of emergency response systems. This issue, which extends far beyond mere inconvenience, has multifaceted implications for the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency healthcare services in the country.
The PS (Atwine) further outlined the pressing need to track all ambulances in Uganda. Her rationale for this initiative is rooted in a stark reality that ambulance misuse if left unchecked, can exact a heavy toll on the nation’s ability to respond to medical emergencies effectively.
One of the most pressing consequences of ambulance misuse is delayed response times. When these critical assets are not available due to being engaged in non-emergency activities, individuals facing genuine medical emergencies suffer.