In Summary
  • You give a doctor information they need expecting that they will communicate back a comprehensive diagnosis, but all you get is silence and a packet of drugs whose name and purpose you do not even know.
  • Being a lawyer, I sought clarity on this from the law.

Last month, I sought medical attention at a health facility in Bweyogerere. I was warmly welcomed and shortly ushered in to see a doctor. I described my symptoms to her while she quietly wrote on a piece of paper and later sent me to the lab.
At the lab, blood was drawn and again no explanation was given. I waited for a while for my results and the lab technician handed me another piece of paper with some scribblings and asked me to go back to the doctor. I tried to read the writings on the papers but could not understand any of it.

I went back to the doctor, who read through the results and told me I had a bacterial infection. She scribbled something on another paper and sent me to the pharmacy, where I was given three different drugs and told to swallow each twice a day. I walked out of this facility completely confused.

This situation is not unique to me. You give a doctor information they need expecting that they will communicate back a comprehensive diagnosis, but all you get is silence and a packet of drugs whose name and purpose you do not even know. Being a lawyer, I sought clarity on this from the law and this is what I found:

According to section 10 of the Patients’ Charter, which was developed by the Ministry of Health in 2009, every patient has the right to be given adequate and accurate information about the nature of their illness, diagnostic procedures, proposed treatment, etc, for one to make a decision that affects any one of these elements.

This information shall be communicated to the patient at the earliest possible stage in a manner that he/she is expected to understand in order to make an informed and independent choice. What does this mean for us health facility users? It means that your health worker is supposed to explain to you what they are doing at every step.

After you describe your symptoms, the health worker is supposed to explain to you what your ailment is and what tests will be carried out. They should also explain how the tests will be carried out and for what specific purpose.

Its not enough that they write a prescription for you - they have to give you the options of available medication and together with them, you arrive at the most suitable treatment.

For example, if you have malaria they may give you the option of oral or intravenous medication stating the advantages and the disadvantages of each. The health worker can only depart from this requirement of informed consent in case of an emergency or where physical or mental state of the patient does not permit. What I learn from this is that the provision of healthcare is not a preserve of health workers, who dictate and patients follow like sheep.