Masaka Hospital Faces Extortion Accusations, Activists Demand Investigation

According to hospital records, the Masaka region requires at least 1,250 units of blood each month. Blood collection drives in the region, often conducted in schools, fall short of this demand, especially during holidays. The establishment of the regional blood bank is expected to bridge this gap, ensuring a more reliable and efficient supply of blood products to meet the medical needs of the community.
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Health rights activists from the Southern Region Social Rights Association (SRSRA) have submitted a petition to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) concerning purported cases of extortion by staff at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital. The activists are calling for a thorough investigation into the matter.

Masaka Hospital, which was originally established in 1927 as a treatment center for syphilis, gained referral status in 1995, serving a wider region. The hospital currently accommodates an average of 1,800 outpatients and approximately 360 admissions daily, including a minimum of 40 new deliveries. However, the hospital faces budgetary constraints in comparison to its operational requirements.

According to the petition, some patients have allegedly been compelled to make payments in order to access services that are expected to be provided free of charge. Notably, the activists have raised concerns about patients being asked to pay for services such as CT scans, which were donated by the government to the facility. The petition argues that this payment system is implemented in the private wing, with patients later receiving services in the general wards where the CT scan machine is located. Such arrangements, according to Mr. Swaibu Makumbi Sulambaaya, the executive director of SRSRA, have provided an opportunity for unscrupulous health workers to demand money from patients in need of free services, including X-ray scans and maternity care.

The hospital received a state-of-the-art CT scan machine last October, which became operational in June. Despite the government’s established rates for CT scan services, the petition alleges that patients are sometimes required to pay higher fees. For instance, patients are charged Shs120,000 for a plain brain scan, Shs150,000 for a contrasted brain scan, Shs200,000 for a chest contrasted scan, and Shs200,000 for an abdominal contrasted scan.

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Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, emphasized that in extreme cases, patients from financially challenged backgrounds should have access to CT scan services without charge. The hospital administrator, Mr. Charles Tumushiime, defended the fees charged for CT scan services, stating that they are subsidized rates approved by the hospital’s board of governors following guidance from the Ministry of Health. He also mentioned that any cases of extortion can be subject to investigation.

In addition to extortion allegations, the petition also raises concerns about the removal of free meals, consisting of posho and beans, and porridge, previously provided by the hospital. The hospital administration discontinued free meals in April, citing budget constraints resulting from rising food prices. Presently, only 66 inpatients, specifically those in the psychiatric ward without caretakers and those brought in by the police, continue to receive free meals. Mr. Tumushiime noted that the hospital requires approximately 250 million shillings annually to sustain the feeding program but currently receives only 80 million shillings.

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