Provide public health insurance, Faith groups tell EAC States

Kampala, Uganda (21 February 2018) – Faith and Cultural groups in East Africa want the Partner States to make national health insurance schemes widely accessible to their citizens. Led by Bishop Stephen Kaziimba and Sheikh Mohammad Waisswa, the leaders made these recommendations during the inaugural roundtable on health financing held in Kampala.

The call for health insurance comes amidst concerns that some of the states in East Africa have not rolled out health Insurance schemes for their citizens. Currently only Kenya and Rwanda seem to have functioning health insurance schemes. Uganda has been trying to implement a health insurance scheme but it has failed to kick off. Health insurance has remained a preserve for a few Ugandans mainly covered by corporate bodies or some schemes in commissions and state enterprises.

Speaking as he led prayers and reflections to kick off the roundtable discussions, Bishop Kaziimba said the low uptake of health care services by marginalized populations due to cost inhibitions, can be corrected and expanded through public health insurance. He cited the succesful case of inclusion of Family Planning in Ghana’s national health insurance scheme and challenged the Ministers of Health present at the roundtable to put their faith in evidence of successful health insurance schemes from other low and middle income countries into action. The Bishop of Mityana Diocese, who is also a Board Member of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda and Chair of its thematic committee on HIV/AIDS, further called on EAC Partner States to standardize the scheme such that nationals of one country can access healthcare in another country using their national health insurance only.

The Ministers (and Cabinet Secretary) of Health present included Dr. Patrick Ndimubanzi (Rwanda), Josiane Nijimbere (Burundi), Sarah Opendi (Uganda & Chair of the EAC Sectoral Council of Health Ministers) and Sicily Kariuki of Kenya.

Bishop Kaziimba also blamed the frequent industrial actions among health workers on poor remuneration and shortage of medical supplies in government facilities. He called on Partner States to improve existing conditions of work, policies and guidelines critical for the health workforce, and invest their training and continuing education in order to stem the current tide where medical workers relocate to other countries in search of greener pastures.

In a press statement issued on the sidelines of the two-day event, the faith leaders decried the destruction of medical supplies worth billions of shillings because they have expired. Sheikh Waisswa, the second deputy Mufti of Uganda, said religious leaders are ready to play the supplementary role of monitoring health sector investments, provided “we are empowered by government and donor communities.” Father Constantine Mbonabingi (Uganda Joint Christian Council) said it was important to setup efficient systems for supplying drugs and also to improve disease surveillance so as to inform distribution of medical supplies.

The leaders spoke as members of the Faith to Action Network which has been involved in empowering faith leaders to advocate for improved policies at national and sub-national levels, as well as other legal frameworks such as the Joint EAC Health Priorities that the two-day meeting eventually adopted.

The Faith Leaders were joined by their culture counterparts including the Prime Minister of Tooro Kingdom, Right Honorable Bernard Tungakwo. Other leaders present at the event were Father Constantine Mbonambingi (Uganda Joint Christian Council), Dr. Ruth Obaikol (Church of Uganda), Sister Mary Goretti Kisakye (INTERDIP- Uganda), Mrs Noeline Kaleeba (TASO), and Reverend Alfred Wonyaka.

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