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Dr. Edith Nakku-Joloba: an excellent choice as President of UMA

Dr. Edith Nakku-Joloba: an excellent choice as President of UMA

The election of Dr. Edith Nakku-Joloba on Sunday December 18 as the new president of Uganda Medical Association (UMA) is excellent news. It restores the 58-year-old organization to a path its founders and sustainers envisaged, namely, a robust organization that promotes and maintains the honour, interests, and high ethical standards of the medical profession. 


Dr. Nakku-Joloba, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Makerere University College of Health Sciences, has walked a journey that has prepared her for her new responsibilities.  Her basic education at Budo Junior School (Kabinja), then Gayaza High School, and Makerere University Medical School, where she obtained her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree, gave her a foundation upon which she has built an outstanding career as a clinical medicine practitioner, researcher, consultant, and organizational leader. 


After her internship at Mulago Hospital, she worked as a medical officer at Murchison Bay Hospital, Luzira Maximum Security Prison.  For the last 27 years, she has focused on clinical management and teaching about sexually transmitted diseases, founded on her extensive research on the subject that has been published in peer-reviewed journals and books. She holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in epidemiology, both obtained at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland Ohio, United States of America.


Dr. Nakku-Joloba’s elevation from vice-president to president of UMA at this critical time is a vote of confidence by her peers. What I have heard from people who know her has been consistently complementary. My telephone conversation with her yesterday confirmed those testimonials. I was particularly impressed by her humility, exemplified by her crediting numerous colleagues with whom she has worked, many upon whose shoulders she stands. She spoke very fondly of the support she and her colleagues received from community leaders in Kasangati, which enabled her team to modernise the health centre there and perform impactful scientific investigations. 


She spoke of how humbled she was when she was nominated to the Great Lukiiko of Buganda, where she has been a member since 2020. She is the deputy chairperson of the Health Committee, Lukiiko Commission. Her current community service includes membership in the Uganda Society of Health Scientists, membership of Straight Talk Team (adolescent sexual health program), board memberships of the Uganda School for the Deaf at Ntinda, Living Fields Health and Community Initiatives, member of FEMRITE (Uganda Women Writers’ Association), and chairperson of Writers Collective. Dr. Nakku-Joloba is a writer/columnist on health issues for New Vision newspaper, and for Flair for Her magazine, a Vision publication. 


The list of her many past community-service engagements reveals a spirit of volunteerism that reflects well-placed priorities. She puts service to others first. This includes serving as general secretary of the Scripture Union, vice chairperson of Makerere College School Parent Teacher Association, member, Global Health Council, Scientific Advisory Board Member, International Program on Microbicides, and Member Syndemics Network.  


Dr. Nakku-Joloba has been an invited presenter and speaker at medical conferences in Australia, Spain, South Africa, Uganda, and the USA. She has been honoured with awards from the Kingdom of Buganda, Makerere College School, the Centre for Global Health, Straight Talk Foundation, Forgaty International Centre, and the Kampala Evangelical School of Theology. 


Clearly, UMA has returned to its practice of choosing leaders with the character, training and experience that is in the tradition of world-class sister organizations.  Her resume places her in the league of distinguished leaders like Dr Osahon Enabulele of Nigeria, the current president of the World Medical Association, and the late Dr. Margaret Mungherera of Uganda, a former president of the same organization. 


That medicine is a noble profession is not a mere slogan. It is a belief that is held deep within the souls of most doctors. Like any group of humans, doctors in Uganda and in every country have among them some bad mangoes that defy the expected standards of professional and personal conduct. When they misbehave, this minority brings dishonour and distress to the profession. The understandable temptation to judge the entire profession based on this small minority’s behaviour results in negative blanket statements. 


The prevention of such potential loss of public trust begins with active engagement of every doctor in their local and national professional organization. This engagement should be intellectual, organizational, educational, and financial, the way it was when our elders formed and nurtured UMA. More importantly, doctors’ collective engagement creates a strong forum through which patients’ and doctors’ interests are promoted in partnership with local and central governments. 


UMA is currently handicapped by its very limited operational resources. Its leaders are volunteers whose professional practices and the reality of the need to generate income limits the time they can give to the Association. They are assisted by two salaried secretaries, who are paid from the modest revenue generated from its small paid-up membership of 400. UMA does not own premises for its headquarters. The Association rents a small office in Kampala.


In my view, UMA needs a larger space to accommodate an administrative and management team of fulltime workers to run the day-to-day affairs of the Association. In the short term, UMA should hire a Chief Administrative Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, and a Communications and Fundraising Secretariat. In the medium term, UMA needs its own building, from which the Association can generate rental revenue. 


This is all affordable if all Ugandan doctors at home and abroad become paid-up members and make UMA a priority item in their budgets. Membership fees of just 2,000 out of the 7,000 doctors can generate more than UGX 2 billion a year. Furthermore, Ugandan companies, business leaders, and citizens should consider financial support for UMA as an investment in their own health. 


UMA has elected an excellent leader. She needs our collective support to turn her vision into reality. Dr. Nakku-Joloba told me that her hope for UMA is that “we become medical professionals who do our best, rooted in the past, in concert with the present community, and looking to the digital future.” She added that “we must be innovative, contemporary, utilizing current technologies and cutting-edge science. We must give our best locally and globally.”


This is a vision that her professional colleagues should find very easy to subscribe and contribute to. Happily, Dr. Nakku-Joloba takes over the leadership of UMA backed by the goodwill of members of the profession, with a reawakened and energized sense of collective responsibility to protect and grow their organization. 

© Muniini K. Mulera

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