Drunken and Drugged Medics

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A surgeon who has obviously had a little too much to drink.

In normal circumstance we are scared of drug addicts and alcoholics. But what happens when the medical practitioner treating you is both a drug addict and alcoholic. In Uganda there has been a steady growth of  alcoholism and drug abuse among medical practitioners. The absurd part is it goes unnoticed.

According to Bigabwa Kenneth<a clinical officer>,drinking among health workers is a common problem because it relieves stress . Jude, a clinician working with the Bushenyi local government, argues that exposure to blood and pus regularly causes alcohol abuse by medical practitioners. “If you are from the surgical ward and you don’t drink you can lose appetite,” he explains. Tutamwebwa ,a medic from Bushenyi ,asserts that clients cause medical practitioners to drink, “someone will give you alcohol in appreciation for the service you have given. People buy them into the habit,” he argues. Ocheng ,a laboratory technician, also points out that most medical practitioner’s drink to socialize. That is the chance they get off work. “Drinking is mostly rampant during football matches,” he notes.

The New South Wales Medical Board states “doctors are not immune to problems with drugs or alcohol. Apart from the general risk factors they share with the rest of the community, doctors may be exposed to particular risks relating to, the demands, responsibilities and stress of their professional life, conflict between their professional and personal lives, easy access to prescription drugs , self-treatment and reluctance of colleagues to confront or deal with early warning signs.

The stakes are high in the case of doctors with drug or alcohol problems where the well being, and even the lives of patients under their care may potentially be at risk. There are real and tragic examples of patients dying as a direct result of their intoxicated doctor’s addiction. Even more it should be noted that medical practitioners indulging in drugs and alcoholic lifestyles end up devastating their own lives.

Lilian Kabugho ,a nurse, sums up the misery stating “some medical practitioners are desperate.” Bigabwa supports her argument citing the stress factor in medical practice as a cause of substance abuse. Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ezra Suruma is quoted to have pointed out that the health system in Uganda continues to suffer from poor service delivery and inefficiency, including medicine stock-outs, poor attendance by health workers, corruption, and poor services.

These are reflections of the strain in Ugandan medical practice where it is noted that in 2008 only 2000 Ugandan Doctors were registered under the Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Council while the majority fled the country for greener pastures. However with the growing knowledge of these problems Uganda has to seek a way out, if medical practitioners are to be alleviated from the stress as well as temptation of alcoholism and drug abuse. It is known that Uganda lacks medical practitioners to cover its vast population of about 30 million people, but having the few health specialists in a tipsy state makes it worse.

Linda Lillian <the writer is a lecturer, sometimes radio talk show host, on and off musician and poet when angry!>

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