Occupational Health in Uganda received fresh attention when a new national policy to protect workers’ health came into force early in 2008. The working conditions of health workers is of specific concern.
The health facility, like any other workplace, is a potentially hazardous environment. Health service delivery is ranked among the high-risk occupations which need an occupational health service. Some hazards are more specific to the nature of activities carried out by the heath workers.
"Health workers are assumed to be okay because they work in hospitals, yet the healthcare setting is one of the most stressful and most hazardous," says Dr. D.K Sekimpi, the acting executive director of Uganda National Association Of Community and Occupational Health.
"Healthcare workers have many hazards, but they are not protected. We have had challenges like the loss of health workers while battling outbreaks and epidemics.
For instance, Dr. Mathew Lukwiya and Dr. Jonah Kule succumbed to Ebola while on duty," Sekimpi says.
Up to this period, there had been no policy on caring for healthcare workers in the health sector until February this year when the Ministry of Health came up with The Policy for Mainstreaming Occupational Health and Safety in the health service sector.
In 1950, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined occupational health as the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical and social wellbeing of workers in all occupations.
This is to be achieved by preventing ill health, controlling risks and adopting work to people and people to their jobs.
Occupational health involves the health disciplines of occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, psychology, safety, physiotherapy, ergonomics and rehabilitation (WHO, 2002).
All types of work are hazardous and workers are exposed to situations that may result into injury, disease or even death. Such occupational accidents and diseases cause great suffering and loss.
While the economic cost is high, public awareness of safety and health tends to be quite low. All frequently, the subject does not get the priority it merits and the health sector is no exception.
The workplace refers to any situation or location where an individual is involved in meaningful employment to earn a living. It covers both the formal places such as health facilities and the informal places such as home, where health workers provide outreach services.
Sekimpi says the objective of the policy is to ensure safety and health for all health workers through adequate protection against occupational hazards, protection of patients, provision of improved quality of health service delivery, work motivation, job satisfaction, better work output, efficiency and productivity in the health sector. It is a spectrum, which would include rehabilitation and compensation.
"UNACOH supports the policy. In fact, this policy is more less an outcome of the Lukwiya legacy. From 2002, we started recognising the role of health workers in health sector and since then, UNACOH in conjunction with WHO, we have been having the Lukwiya Memorial Lecture every year," Sekimpi says.
Making workplaces safe and without risks to health leads to improved work ability of personnel, which increases productivity as it directly improves work efficiency and increases the amount of effective working time.
Currently, the Ministry of Health is rolling the policy out and trying to implement it, and anybody who is in the health sector should be protected against any hazards that could come in the process of their work.
The implementation of good safety, health and environmental practices is essential in improving productive and decent work while at the same time reducing expenditure.
Dr. Stephen Malinga, the Minister of Health, says the policy will protect health workers and the public from the dangerous aspects of health service delivery and ensure that the working environment is kept free from any hazard.
Source: New Vision (Kampala)
Posted: 17 November 2008
By: Elvis Basudde