Uganda starts journey to ending medical tourism with Human Organ Transplant law

Ugandans have been contributing to the medical tourism in other countries especially in India; European and America hospitals to seek specialized services that include organ transplant a venture that has been costly.

One of the ailments that have been taking Ugandans abroad that require a lot of money has been the open heart surgery but since 2018, local experts have started carrying out these procedures at the Uganda Heart Institute.

Human Organ Transplant has not been happening in Uganda not because there are no specialist doctors but the absence of a law.

Parliament last week passed the Uganda Human Organ Donation and Transplant Bill 2022 which if assented to by President Yoweri Museveni will set a new dawn for the treatment of complicated health cases in the country.

Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng was happy with Parliament for passing the Bill because its implementation will move the country’s health sector to another level.

“This is another milestone for us as the health sector” a jovial Dr Aceng said shortly after the Bill was passed by Parliament.

The main objective of the Bill is to establish a legal framework for organ, cell and tissue transplant in Uganda. The Bill also sought to regulate the conduct of donation and transplant activities in the country.

The Bill establishes the Uganda Organ and Transplant Council to oversee and regulate organ and cell donation and transplantation in Uganda.

Through the Council, health facilities in Uganda will be accredited to carryout organ transplant after meeting specific requirements. Initially, the government in the Bill had proposed only Mulago National Referral Hospital to be the only specialized facility for to carryout organ transplant in the country.

“The Committee observed that designating Mulago as a pioneer transplant Centre may prevent other facilities that are read for organ, tissue and cell harvesting and transplantation from commencing.” Reads the relevant part of the Health Committee report.

The new law comes at a time when the country is grappling with reports that some Ugandans who travel to the Arab countries to work as housemaids have returned without some body organs after there are allegedly harvested against their will.

Lawmakers have there put provisions that will make the law shield Ugandans from losing their body organs to such unscrupulous people outside the country.

Therefore, to stop human trafficking that will lead into illegal harvesting of human organs, Parliament has slapped a life imprisonment as a deterrent punishment for whoever will be found guilty of doing it for commercial purposes.

In the Bill, Parliament has also put conditions that a health facility will abide with when they are harvesting organs, tissue or cells from children who cannot consent on their own. Any such action must be approved by the Council and with consent from a parent or guardian.

Dr Charles Ayume, of the Parliamentary Committee on Health emphasized that; ‘the provisions include stem cell therapy for miners who are twins or close siblings after approval by the Council. Prescribe a penalty of life imprisonment for a person who contravenes the provision,”
Other offenses

Corporate bodies will face a penalty of Shs10 billion for being involved in human organ trade. For the same offence, individuals including health workers or traffickers face a fine of Shs2 billion or imprisonment not exceeding 20 years or both.

The Bill prohibits monetary or any other forms of compensation for organs, tissues, or cells other than reimbursement of donation-related expenses except for justifiable expenses approved by the council.

Before Parliament processed the Bill, the Committee on Health delegated three of its members for benchmarking Istanbul in Turkey where the first organ transplant was conducted by Dr Mehmet Haberal and his colleagues at the Hacettepe University in 1975.

After successful transplantation of kidneys from deceased-donors to living recipients, the Turkish Parliament enacted the law on transplantation of organs in 1979.

In 2001, the Turkish Ministry of Health established the National Coordination Centre to promote transplantation activities and deceased donor organ procurement. Currently, the Organ Transplantation Regulatory Unit is a subdivision of the Ministry of Health.

The overall objective designated by MPs; Dr George Bhoka, Dr Timothy Batuwa and Esther Mbayo while in Turkey would study the legal and regulatory framework governing organ and tissue donation and transplantation in the European country so as to find out the best practices and lessons for Uganda.

In their report, the three MPs indicated that there are good practices for the country to pick from Turkey so that the new venture is nursed well. One of the key findings is the room for collaboration between Uganda and Turkey.

“All the health facilities visited expressed willingness to cooperate with Uganda in the area of capacity building/training for its medical personnel. The Ministry of Health therefore, should develop memoranda of cooperation/cooperation agreements with the respective transplant hospitals in order to enable the country’s medical personnel attain more skills” the delegation’s report reads in part.

They also recommended that the government of Uganda should consider promoting inter-university collaborations with those leading science based universities in Turkey for knowledge transfer.

The delegation also reported to Parliament that the public facilities conducting organ transplant in Turkey charge low costs for the services and it is expensive in private facilities yet the quality of the service is similar.

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