In Uganda, much like in the United States, election fever is on the rise. Our next elections for president and Parliament, which take place every five years, will be held in February 2016. As the national political conversation begins, most Ugandans, like me, have one main concern—health.
Health care is a top issue for Ugandans
According to a 2014 poll conducted by Columbia University, health care is the most important issue for Ugandan citizens. A majority believe that the Ugandan Parliament should prioritize health over unemployment, education, or crime.
Despite this, health remains a low priority for the government. Currently, Uganda spends only US$10.50 per capita on health; much lower than the $44 per capita minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Lack of funding is not a credible excuse, especially when Parliament recently received 2 billion shillings (about US$550,000) for two days of work, and the State House spends more than 600 million shillings each day.
Launching a manifesto for health
This is why I worked with a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs)—all advocating for better access to essential health services in Uganda—to launch the Civil Society Health Manifesto (799 KB PDF). The manifesto demands that all political parties and candidates prioritize lifesaving health services.
This is the first time that CSOs will join together to leverage Uganda’s general elections to amplify the health needs and rights of Ugandan citizens. The manifesto was coordinated by the USAID Advocacy for Better Health project, led by PATH, and represents the interests of over 50 organizations.
Health cannot wait, say advocates
“We are tired of politicians telling us health must wait,” said William Kidega, Deputy Chief of Party for Advocacy for Better Health at PATH in Uganda, at a recent rally to launch the manifesto.
“Investing in health services is the only path to equitable economic development for ordinary Ugandans.”
Building the campaign for health
To build this campaign, we held the first meeting of CSOs in July, agreed on ten key steps to defeating preventable death in Uganda, and then wrote the manifesto based on these steps.
We also held a rally to call for better health, attended by CSO representatives, local media, members of the public, and other partners such as WHO Uganda.
Dr. Hafisa Kasule, representative from WHO Uganda, congratulated the partners during her keynote address at the rally, “Long-term, predictable, and sustainable financing for health, from domestic as well as international resources, is required to provide a basic package of preventative and curative health services and capacity-building in the sector.”
Health cannot be ignored
The launch of the manifesto is just the beginning. The coalition aims to connect the existing citizen demand for health to broader policy issues by using local CSOs to disseminate and translate the manifesto to reach all districts, counties, and villages.
We want every single voter to read the manifesto and use the same language to demand that all candidates and our future elected leaders prioritize health and support our ten points. And after the election, we will monitor implementation and hold our leaders accountable.
A call to citizens: vote for health!
The Constitution of Uganda provides for all people to enjoy equal rights and opportunities and access to health services, clean and safe water, and education. As empowered Ugandan citizens, no matter what our politics are, let us stand together and tell our leaders—we vote for health!
- Jude Bigirwenkya is a regional advocacy officer at PATH in Uganda.