Uganda hit by aid threat over medical 'brain drain' case

Kampala (AFP) - Uganda on Monday stood by plans to send more than 240 of its health workers to the Caribbean despite a Belgian threat to cut 11 million euros in aid.

Last week Belgium's cooperation minister, Alexander De Croo, said his country was suspending a transfer of development money destined for the east African nation's health sector.

The Belgian minister said the expatriation of the health workers -- branded by activists in Uganda as a state-sanctioned brain-drain -- "would considerably weaken Uganda's health system."

The government scheme has already been criticised by the United States, which gives $400 million (357 million euros) in aid to Uganda's health sector every year.

"It is extremely premature for the Belgians to cut aid," Ugandan foreign ministry spokesman Fred Opolot told AFP.

"If they engage us, we can enlighten them on what formed our decision. We believe they will reverse their decision," he added.

Opolot said the export of health workers was "a good policy for the medical fraternity in Uganda," saying it would also "address the unemployment problems."

Officials have said the scheme is merely part of Uganda’s bilateral cooperation with Trinidad and Tobago, from which Uganda has also benefitted -- with aid such as oil and gas industry training and financial support for its police.

The plan to transfer at least 241 Ugandan health workers to Trinidad and Tobago has been met with fierce criticism inside Uganda.

The Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR), a Ugandan think-tank, is challenging the expatriation and seeking a court injunction to block what it has blasted as a violation of the right to healthcare.

Activists in Uganda, plagued by a shortage of doctors, nurses and dentists, argue that more people will die needlessly if the plan goes ahead, stressing that Trinidad and Tobago has a doctor to patient ratio that is 12 times better than Uganda's.