Govt to construct 250-bed specialized heart hospital

The Ministry of Health has said plans are underway to construct a 250-bed capacity specialized heart hospital to save the country from financial haemorrhage associated with medical tourism.

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health Minister, said in a statement during the Commemoration of World Heart Day in Kampala yesterday that the facility will be constructed in Naguru, Kampala.

“Parliament already approved our request for a $70 million (about Shs270b) loan for the construction and equipping of the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) infrastructure project on the 10 acres of land at Nakawa, Naguru, that will accommodate the Cardiac Center of Excellence, she said.

Dr Tom Mwambu, the head of surgery at UHI, said the new center will increase space to allow them to do more heart surgeries. There have been issues of delays to perform surgery at the current UHI facility at Mulago Hospital.

“We have partners who have sponsored more than 100 children to be operated here in Uganda, but the space is a limiting factor. This new facility will help us do more surgeries to reduce the waiting time and referrals,” he said.

Dr Peter Lwabi, the Deputy Executive Director of UHI, said that in Uganda, one in four adults have high blood pressure, a precursor of heart disease.

“It is also estimated that in Uganda, of the 1.6 million babies born in the country every year, 1 percent (16,000 babies) suffer from congenital heart disease and half of this number (8,000) is serious enough to warrant intervention [of surgery],” he said.

He said Uganda rheumatic heart disease (RHD), the commonest cause of preventable acquired disease in children and young adults, is very common in Uganda. “It is estimated that 300,000 school children have RHD,” he said.

The causes of heart disease, according to Dr Lwabi, include a sedentary lifestyle and eating fatty foods, excess salt, processed food and drinks. Tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor stress management and lack of rest are the other causes of heart disease. The expert advised the public to address these problems if they will escape heart disease and cardiovascular diseases.

However, the UHI has also been accused of charging patients yet they are funded by taxpayers. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Thomas Tayebwa, two weeks ago ordered the Health ministry to present a statement on why patients are being charged in public health facilities.

His orders followed a report presented in Thursday’s plenary by Dr Elisa Rutahigwa, the MP for Rukungiri Municipality, about a patient who was asked by the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) management to pay Shs19 million to be operated on.

He said: “Everything was done for her in Mulago, the final diagnosis reached, she needed an operation and she was invoiced up to the tune of close to Shs19 million. This patient couldn’t manage and she had to go back and sell a piece of land. We advised her to write to the executive director for the waiver but up to now, there is no response.”

Asked about the issue yesterday, Dr John Omagino, the UHI director, said the Parliament approves money, which is only enough to operate 200, leaving hundreds unable to access care. He explained that by charging patients some amount of money, they are able to operate around 500 per year.

“The amount she was charged is just the routine. But that’s a quarter of what people who go out [abroad] pay. And at UCI, those who have issues with the payment are given a waiver,” he said.

He added: “If they go out, they pay $20,000 (Shs76m) but here the pay is $5,000 (Shs19m). The money is used to purchase some items for surgery, support us to operate on other 300 patients [who are not planned for by the government] and train doctors to do heart surgeries.”

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