By Lukanga Samuel
The United Nations’ Global Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls globally. Seeing women in professions historically dominated by men is vital for young girls’ development and ambition — as well as driving the world towards a more fair and equitable future.
The world of medicine truly evolved in 1847, when British physician Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to be admitted into a medical school in the US — and, two years later, when she was the first woman to receive a doctor’s degree.
In the 1800s, women faced extreme difficulties and prejudices if trying to enter the field of medicine. While there were plenty of medical colleges available for men, women were not allowed to attend. In fact, according to the University of Bristol, Blackwell herself was only admitted as a joke — and reportedly had to disguise herself as a man to attend.
Centuries later, more women are now increasingly taking up space and excelling in careers traditionally dominated by men, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — and that includes medicine and health care.
Women have always been healers. As mothers and grandmothers, women have always nursed the sick in their homes. As midwives, women have always cared for people in their communities. Yet, when medicine became established as a formal profession globally, women were shut out.
However, they didn’t seat back and look on, but rather waged a long battle to gain access to medical education and hospital training.
Since then, women have overcome prejudices and discrimination to create and broaden opportunities within the profession. Gradually, they have been able to carve out successful careers in every aspect of medicine.
This article therefore highlights some of the significant contributions that women doctors in Uganda(as led by the health ministry’s permanent secretary) have made to the health care system in Uganda.
In the United States of America, for example, 2017 was the first year that saw more women enrolling in medical schools than men, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted in 2019 that the health and social sector is “one of the biggest and fastest-growing employers in the world, particularly of women.”
Women makeup 7 in 10 health and social care workers globally, and contribute $3 trillion annually to global health — although half in the form of unpaid care work. The WHO also highlighted, however, that women’s representation in the most highly paid health occupations has been improving steadily since 2000.
But while women’s participation in the health sector is strong, the WHO also added that further policies are needed to address inequities; eliminate gender-based discrimination in earnings (with an overall gender pay gap of around 28% in the health workforce); remove barriers to access to full-time employment; and support access to professional development and leadership roles.
Women across Uganda and Africa at large face severe obstacles to good health, including gender inequity, poverty, sexual and gender-based violence, maternal health risks and childbirth, neglected tropical diseases, communicable diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, and non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
According to many sources, including the WHO, key ways of improving women’s health across Africa is empowerment of women, and creating a health system that is more sensitive and responsive to the specific health needs of women — and to do this, the participation of women at all levels of the health system, from patients to frontline workers, to physicians, is essential.
Dr.Dianah in the lead, doctors are working tirelessly, every day, to improve the country’s health sector with tremendous dedication, vigor, and passion.
The present permanent secretary of the Ugandan health ministry is a remarkable woman that we(Ugandans) should all know about, who is breaking barriers and revolutionising medicine not only in Uganda but also on the African continent, and offering up inspiration to pave the way for future generations of women in medicine.
Besides being the health ministry’s current permanent secretary, Dr. Atwine is a clinician and a researcher, a former head of the Health Monitoring Unit at State House.
For the last 20 years, Dr Atwine has been a physician for the first family. Perhaps Atwine’s public profile rose while she was at the Health Monitoring Unit. The unit recovered medicines that had been stolen worth billions of shillings, investigated and prosecuted several workers with corrupt tendencies in the health sector.
“To date, people still call me to arrest suspected corrupt individuals, an indicator of the impact the unit made. I take pride in founding the unit that made a modest contribution to fighting corruption in this country,” she says.
At the Ministry of Health, Atwine introduced regular performance management reviews and biometric systems in a number of health facilities, which has helped fight absenteeism by health workers at their stations of duty.
Under Atwine’s leadership, the Ministry of Health has regained
confidence from key strategic partners. For example, the Global Fund has renewed its commitment to fund health programmes in the country after the financial scandal that hit the ministry.
“At the time I joined the ministry I found a huge backlog of cases. Some partners had stopped giving us money because of lack of accountability.”
The situation is now improving. “We do not babysit people who are not accountable. I get emotional when I get to a hospital and find patients not receiving adequate care. I would give anything for my patients,” she says.
Dr.Atwine’s philosophy is that there should be value and value for money in everything that is done.
Atwine studied human medicine
at Mbarara University of Science and Technology before doing her master’s at Makerere University. She then studied project planning and management at the Uganda Management Institute and clinical research at John Hopkins University.
Under Dr. Atwine’s leadership, the Ministry of Health has
regained confidence from key strategic partners. For example, the Global Fund has renewed its commitment to fund health programmes in the country after the financial scandal that hit the ministry.
“At the time I joined the ministry, I found a huge backlog of cases,”
says Dr. Atwine.
Dr. Atwine as she is known by her legion of Ugandan natives, she is passionate about quality access to sexual & reproductive health services, and her calling was to be a medical doctor, having grown up seeing awareness campaigns about the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Dianah always envisioned herself as a medical doctor from a young age. She believes that sexual and reproductive health chose her, as young women would speak to her freely about their sexual health and relationship issues, and that’s when she found her true calling in the world of medicine.
Dr. Kanzira being the top accounting officer of the Ugandan health ministry, she dedicates her time and expertise to ensuring that her vision of a world where all people, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, disability, or economic status, have access to reproductive health services.
She has always made it her mission to raise awareness about HIV and the now COVID-19 pandemic through educating people about it.
She is well-loved and known for the medical advice she gives people once via her media platforms which she believes has played a role in changing people’s lives and has made more people feel open to discussing health issues–a vital step in ensuring people are accessing health care.
“As a doctor, I enjoy being able to help people when they are most vulnerable. Nothing is more rewarding than a patient coming into the hospital in severe pain, with a marked disability, and after intervention and rehabilitation, seeing them smile because they can now walk without pain, they can return to work and lead a normal life” she said
She was awarded the 2021 COVID19 Response, Recovery & Resilience Award of Exceptional Perseverance at a function to mark the International Youth Day. The award highlighted her resilience, passion & relentless effort in the fight against COVID-19.
Despite her bitter sufferings from the bad press engined by naysayers, with many accusing her and the ministry of reportedly mismanaging funds meant for the Covid-19 fight, this did not stop the virtue of the powers given to the President by Article 174 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, HE.YK.Museveni from re-appointing her in the same docket as several changes among Permanent Secretaries, in which he transferred many and retired several were made.
The fact that she is the top accounting officer, supportive to the Hon. minister of health, accountable to both parliament and the executive for the health ministry’s performance. Dr. Dianah is holding a philosophy of proper Accountability, value for money, and maximum optimization of resources as the only future for a young developing health system like Uganda’s.
Personally, I feel a patriotic pain when a section of sleepy unpatriotic political driven natives ridicule the country’s top public servants even before trying to undergo the protocols of raising a claim. We have to collectively heal our wounded world. The chaos, despair, and senseless destruction we see today are a result of the alienation that people feel from each other and their environment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.
For God and my Country, Uganda.
The writer is a social development enthusiast and ambassador of Humanity