By Geoffrey Mutegeki Araali
Health officials in Bundibugyo District, Uganda are charging fees and soliciting bribes from patients to provide ‘free’ services, a new report alleges.
The report by the Rwenzori Anti-Corruption Coalition (RAC), a non-governmental organisation operating in the Rwenzori Sub-region, suggests that health workers at Bundibugyo hospital are asking people to pay for services, including the delivery of babies.
Mr Meshach Byomuntura, the programmes officer at RAC, said there is evidence of mothers being asked to pay 25,000 Ugandan shillings (Shs) for the delivery of a baby boy and Shs30,000 for a baby girl. The report does not explain why the charge varies according to sex.
“The services are supposed to be free but these people are charging for them. This discourages our mothers from delivering in hospitals and instead go to traditional birth attendants,” Mr Byomuntura said.
He added that other services such as surgery and radiography are also being charged for, a thing he described as a “corruption tendency.”
“Surgical services are charged at Shs200,000 and as a result two patients, one from Kikyo and another from Kisugu, have died after they couldn’t raise the money,” Mr Byomuntura said.
The district chairperson, Mr Jolly Tibemenya, confirmed that he had met one of the victims of the alleged extortions but she reportedly feared to name the culprits.
“I asked her to tell me the culprits but she declined, saying she will use the same health facility and could be mistreated,” Mr Tibemanya said.
He added: “I couldn’t take further steps because I had nowhere to start from, but we are investigating the allegations.”
Charging for ‘free’ health services: more evidence
A recent research report by Development Alternative found out that many ‘free’ reproductive health services in Kamwenge, Kaberamaido and Amuria districts are paid for.
“In Soroti,when you deliver a baby boy, you pay Shs20,000 and [for] a girl Shs15,000. People now take chickens to health facilities to raise the fee. Our people are ignorant; that’s why they pay for the services,” said Ms Suzan Bagisha, an official from the research firm.
The same report suggests that most respondents do not know whom to report to when they are charged the fee.
Ms Bagisha indicated that charging unofficial fees, payment for preferential treatment and utilities like mama kits are rife in the health sector.
She attributed the loophole to weak health unit management committees.