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Ugandan Cartoonist's Hashtag Highlights Poor Health Care

A Twitter screenshot of a medical worker standing as a back drop stand resuscitating a patient on the floor.
A Twitter screenshot of a medical worker standing as a back drop stand resuscitating a patient on the floor.

KAMPALA — A popular cartoonist in Uganda has launched a social media campaign to highlight the poor state of the country's health care system.

On Twitter, #UgandaHealthExhibition is telling stories about the poor conditions in hospitals and clinics. Pictures of Ugandan doctors treating patients on the floors of hospitals due to a lack of beds have this week been circulating on social media.

One photo showed a doctor and health worker stitching a patient’s head injury on a floor mat. Another photo showed a doctor wearing gloves as protective shoes before surgery.

These are just some of the images critical of Uganda’s health care system — part of an online campaign by popular cartoonist Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.

“Just that they ignore and maybe in ignoring things grow beyond what they can even comprehend, or they get to understand that this is happening in their aloof world. But that if this is cast out there and maybe there’s some little sense of shame left, they would feel bad about it," said Ssentongo. "It was clear that they didn’t want this voice to come out. For it to have come out that strongly was a triumph on our side.”

Ssentongo’s campaign makes allegations of under staffing and absenteeism, theft of drugs, abuse of patients, extortion and bribery.

Ssentongo has more than 175,000 followers on Twitter and the campaign has gained supporters, including those working in medical care, who joined the critical tweeting.

“We are talking about a system that is already crumbling. And then we look at the after effect of COVID-19," said Dr. Jacob Otile, a Ugandan general practitioner.

"If we are to make sure we move the next step, the budgetary allocation to health has to significantly go high. Mismanagement of the little that we have. It ends up in people’s pockets and corruption is one of the biggest problems.”

Uganda’s Ministry of Health responded to the twitter campaign by tweeting photos of clean hospital buildings with good medical facilities and blocking Ssentongo’s tweets.

But the campaign led lawmakers like Joan Alobo on Wednesday to discuss the health sector in parliament and share stories of problems from their constituents.

“A woman was taken for caesarian section, but because the mother did not have money, three days after the operation, the woman started oozing out pus. When taken back to theater, there were particles left in the stomach," Alobo said.

Uganda’s Ministry of Health spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona acknowledged to VOA there are problems in the health care system and blamed a lack of funding.

“We are not collecting as much revenue. So, we are able to use the available resources to fix the urgent issues," said Ainebyoona. "And also, for them they are focusing on the curative side. But also, we need to take interest and embrace the preventive message. Things like sleeping under the mosquito net, hand washing, doing physical activity.”

Ssentongo and other activists are calling for an increase in the health care budget and better management of available funds.

The Ugandan cartoonist launched another Twitter campaign earlier this month to fix the capital’s poor roads under the hashtag #KampalaPotholeexhibition.

It gained enough traction that authorities carried out road inspections, which led President Yoweri Museveni to order $1.6 million to fix the roads.