The government needs to procure an additional 169 ambulances if all Ugandans are to access emergency services, according to the Health Ministry.
Currently, there are 121type B and C ambulances. Type B ambulances are used for universal coverage and are equipped with medicine, medical equipment like oxygen tanks, stretchers, gloves, medicine, defibrillators and suction machines to provide emergency medical care while the type C ambulance offer advanced life support such as emergency surgeries.
Dr. John Baptist Waniaye, the Commissioner in Charge of Emergency Services in the Ministry of Health, says that the available ambulances are insufficient to serve the entire country. He says that due to the limited number of ambulances, the response time to emergencies is poor.
He says that on average, it takes an ambulance as long as an hour to pick up casualties. Dr. Waniaye says that they need to procure an additional 169 ambulances if they are to cut down the response time to the recommended five minutes.
He explains that once the government procures the required number of ambulances, 430 ambulances will be Type B and C land ambulances while 15 will be water-based. Within Kampala, the ambulances will be managed by Kampala Capital City Authority, which will set up a call number that people can call to request an ambulance.
Outside Kampala, the ambulances will be managed at regional centers while the water ambulances will be stationed in island districts such as Buvuma and Kalangala. Dr Waniaye says due to a shortage of funds, the government is considering upgrading type A ambulances into type B.
“We have 170 type A ambulances that we want to upgrade into type B. We think this will be cheaper than buying a new type B at over Shillings 200 million. We are going to check the cars to see, which ones can be upgraded or not. Those that are not fit will not be used,” Waniaye said.
A 2013 situation analysis of the state of ambulance services in the country by Uganda Red cross Society revealed that only 6 percent of patients are taken to hospital by ambulance, while more than 50 percent are taken by police pick-up trucks.
A 2020 survey carried out by Makerere University School of Public Health revealed that 70% of ambulances used in the country could not offer any sort of emergency care. Most of them lacked equipment or medical supplies and trained personnel. They were found to be emergency transport vehicles but could not save a life.
According to the study, the ambulances lacked basic equipment like pain medication, vital sign monitors, an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine, a defibrillator or an intubation set used to clear blocked airways. They did not even have suction machines that remove obstructions from the airways
with the procurement of more ambulances that are equipped to handle major emergencies, more lives will be saved. Dr. Annet Alenyo Ngabirano, an emergency physician and technical advisor on Emergency Medical Services, says that as many as 2,700 casualty deaths are avoidable with emergency service.
“From WHO statistics, if you have a well-structured emergency care system you should avert a minimum of your emergencies from dying. In Uganda, we record around 5000 deaths on average annually. If 54 percent of these deaths were avoided, that would be a good number,” she said.