In Summary
  • Timely: The book comes at a time when complaints about the kind of services that Ugandans receive in both private and public health facilities across the country are a major talking point, writes Isaac Mufumba.

Dr Sylvester Onzivua’s book, Medicine, the Law and You, will be launched soon.

Dr Onzivua, an esteemed pathologist, writes a column in Saturday Monitor that goes by the same name. The book has 12 short chapters based on 52 different legal suits that have been disposed of in the courts of law in various parts of the world.
The book comes at a time when complaints about the kind of services that Ugandans receive in both private and public health facilities across the country are a major talking point.

A lot of effort has been injected into improving the public healthcare system. There are many more health centres at sub-county and parish levels and there have been improvements in the delivery of essential drugs, including those required for the treatment of HIV/Aids. There are many more health workers than ever before, but reports from surveys and the media suggest that the health sector continues to be plagued by poor quality service.
Citizens do not receive the kind of care that they need. Sometimes the care is delayed.

Matters are not helped by the fact that many Ugandans are not aware of their health rights. Whereas the Ministry of Health launched the Uganda Patients’ Charter in October 2009 “to bring about awareness of patients’ rights and responsibilities”, a report of a study carried out in Mulago National Referral Hospital between May and June 2012, just two and a half years after the charter was launched, pointed to a disturbing lack of awareness.

The report of the study, “awareness of, responsiveness to and practice of patients’ rights at Uganda’s national referral hospital”, which was carried out by four people, including three Ugandans, Harriet Rachel Kagoya, Elizabeth Ekirapa Kiracho and Dan Kibuule, and was published in the African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine in June 2013, indicates that 36.5 per cent of patients were not aware of their rights while seeking healthcare and 79 per cent of those never attempted to demand for their rights. At least 81.5 per cent of the patients had never heard about the charter.

Lack of knowledge is partly driven by lack of reading materials. It is fuelled by belief that medicine and the law are unrelated abstracts, one a science and practice by which our bodies are kept healthy, and the other a set of rules which keeps us in line. Those are the issues that Dr Onzivua’s book will partially solve.
In chapter one, for example, he discusses the need for the doctor to develop a good communication with his/her patient.

Good communication entails expressing interest in the patient and what that patient has to say. It in turn inspires the kind of confidence that a patient requires to confide in the doctor. That is always the first step in the healing process.
That becomes very instructive at a time when patients are accusing many a medical worker of being rude.

In chapter two, Dr Onzivua discusses the doctor’s duty to treat a person in an emergency for as long as he is in easy reach of the patient and if treating such a person does not put him in harm’s way. This strikes a chord with the provision of the Patients’ Charter, which provides that “a person is entitled to receive emergency medical care unconditionally in any health facility without having to pay any deposits or fees prior to medical care”.
Most important, however, is that the language and style are great. The English is so simple and the sentence structures are short. The style suits everyone, including those with basic education. This makes it an invaluable tool in the struggle to sensitise Ugandans about their health rights.

About the author
Career. Dr Sylvester Onzivua is a medical doctor by training and a forensic pathologist by specialisation. He studied Human Medicine at Makerere University in Kampala, where he also obtained a Masters Degree in Pathology. He developed interest in forensic medicine and underwent training in South Africa and Victoria Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne, Australia.
Background. Dr Onzivua is first of three children of Capt Nemezio Viyua and Martha Ojiru. Capt Nemezio, a decorated communications officer (signaler) in the Uganda Army, disappeared in 1973, and has never been seen or heard of again.

Education. Dr Onzivua attended Arua Primary School and St Charles Lwanga College, Koboko for his secondary education. However, the political upheavals from 1979 to 1981 disrupted formal education in West Nile region. He resumed studies at Busoga College Mwiri and then went to Kings College Buddo for Advanced Level studies.
Family. Dr Onzivua is married to Dr Judith Ajeani, a gynaecologist and he is a grandfather of six children.