Mbarara Hospital: The only regional referral hospital offering super-specialized services

Beyond rendering services to the population of its dominion which comprises twelve districts and one city, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH) has stretched beyond its confines.

Currently, the institution whose existence dates way back to the 1930s looks after patients outside the Ankole region; its primary catchment area. Ankole region is made up of twelve districts and one city with an estimated catchment population of over 4.5 million people.

Over the years, MRRH has had to cope with the growing number of clients it serves owing to the exponential growth in specialized services offered.

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Currently, MRRH boasts about forty specialized services and its affiliation with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) has further paved the way for the provision of super-specialized services offered beyond the mandate of a regional hospital of its level in Uganda. One case in point, the Head of the Department of Surgery at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital notes that the Department at the Hospital has seven speciality units. These include; Neuro-Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Plastic and Reconstruction Surgery, Pediatric Surgery, Urology, Cardio-Thoracic and Vascular Surgery and General Surgery.

Additionally, the Directorate of Surgery extends to the Department of ENT and Dental, Maxillo-Facial Surgery, alongside the Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care.

Dr Dan Kisitu Kyengera, the Head of the Department of Surgery at MRRH/MUST, says the complex surgery specialities touch the lines of Brain and Spinal Cord Surgery, Bones and Joint Surgery, Chest and Heart related and Vascular surgery, Neonatal surgery, and Ophthalmic Surgery, among others.

A multidisciplinary team of medical specialists led by Dr Deus Twesigye performing a highly technological surgery to separate Siamese twins last year.

To Dr Kisitu, such highly level technology surgical operations aren’t provided for in the policy package for a regional referral hospital in Uganda. 

 According to Dr Celestine Barigye, the Hospital Director of Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, the dream to transform the hospital into a one stop center offering super-specialized services is taking shape. In the last financial year, the Hospital which emerged second to Mulago Hospital in performing surgical operations took the country by surprise. This was after a team of medical specialists, led by Dr Deus Twesigye, a Senior Consultant General Surgeon performed a very high-technological level surgical operation in the separation of Siamese twins.

Dr Barigye notes that determination to revolutionize MRRH into a Cente of Excellence in offering topnotch services is unstoppable.

“We are looking at super specializing and as the hospital we no longer want to provide only general services. The body is so big and you can’t generalize it. You look at the eye its very complicated and we have a ‘whole hospital’ here dealing with the eye”, he says.

Dr Celestine Barigye, Hospital Director Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital recently addressing the media about the achievements of the Hospital.

Dr Barigye made these revelations as a team of specialists performed groundbreaking heart surgeries on seven children at Western Uganda’s biggest facility courtesy of Uganda Heart Institute (UHI).

The beneficiaries of closed heart operations had all along been grappling with Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a congenital heart defect associated with a persistent opening diverting blood flow between two major blood vessels leading from the heart and this can be detrimental as it affects oxygen flow and availability to most of the body.

A team of Cardiologist conducting Closed Heart Surgery on a Patient at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital Theatres on Wednesday, 4th October, 2023.  Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital became the second in the Country after Uganda Heart Institute to perform heart surgery. Photo by Baker Kwikiriza 

On Tuesday last week, Dr John Omangino, the Executive Director acknowledged that Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital is changing the terrain of health services. He decried the shocking burden of congenital heart diseases in children in need of super-specialized services adding that out of 1.6million children born in Uganda annually at least 160,000 babies have the condition.

Dr Elias Kumbakumba, Head of Pediatrics and Child Health Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital receives about 500 admissions with heart conditions, of which 50 of them are congenital defects.

However, the Hospital has not conducting surgical operations for children with heart disease. But, with the start of these heart operations, this restores hope to parents and children with these heart conditions.

The hospital has been offering surgical operations to other children with abnormal formations in the body, such anal-rectal-malformations, cleft lip and palate, spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

Additionally, Neonatal Intensive Care services are being provided at Mbarara Regional Hospital, awaiting the Government’s plans to build and equip a fully-fledged Neonatal Unit in the Hospital.

Dr Stella Kyoyagala, Pediatrician at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital Monitoring a neonate in the NICU: Photo credit: Halson Kagure

Amidst all the prevailing challenges, the Hospital has been able to reduce the Hospital Neonatal Fatality Rate in the past five years from 20% to 7% in 2023. Dr Kumbakumba attributes this to an improvement in infrastructure put in place through the establishment of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit.

Laboratory Services:

The hospital has built two robust laboratory units to provide the best quality of laboratory services in western Uganda. Over 100 laboratory tests, including super specialized investigations, are offered at the Hospital Laboratory. This has attracted over 300 clients from within and outside the traditional catchment area of the Regional Hospital.

Recently, the Hospital’s Clinical Laboratory was listed among the laboratory service providers in the world as having been accredited by the South African National Accreditation System.

Mr Robert Wagubi, the Laboratory Manager applauded the American People through USAID Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital Strengthening Activity for facilitating the processes of accreditation and also addressing the non-conformities to complete the accreditation process by the end of this month.

Benjamin Mwine and Vianney Bwambale, Laboratory Technicians processing samples in the Hospital’s Clinical Laboratories

In June last year, USAID completed and handed over a state of the art Research and Histopathology Laboratory at the Hospital. This laboratory was launched by the USAID Mission Director Mt Richard Nelson and the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health Dr Diana Atwine. 

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The new laboratory is an extension of the Main Laboratory which was built by the Government of Uganda through the East African Public Health Laboratory Network and funded by the World Bank, to provide a wide range of advanced diagnostic services and enable clients get faster results within the Hospital.

Further, the Ugandan government has equipped Mbarara Hospital with the latest Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scanners to build the capacity in disease detection, diagnosis and guide management of the patients.

As Uganda marks 61 years of Independence, there is a need to elevate Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital officially to a National Referral Hospital to correspond to the scope and level of health services being delivered currently. No other Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda can aspire to desire this status in the foreseeable future. 

This article can be accessed in full on pages 84 to 86 of the Uganda at 61 Magazine.

Compiled by: Halson Kagure, Public Relations Officer, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital and
Edited by: Dr Oriokot Francis, Senior Consultant/ Paediatrics and Child Health, Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital

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