Dual practice in Uganda: the evolution and management of a complex phenomenon.

Author(s) Ligia Paina Bergman1, Freddie Ssengooba2, David Peters3.
Affiliation(s) 1Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Washington, United States, 2Health Policy Planning and Management, Makerere University School of Public Health, Kampala, Uganda, 3Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Baltimore, United States.
Country - ies of focus Uganda
Relevant to the conference tracks Health Systems
Summary Dual practice is widespread in developing countries, yet it is seldom accounted for in health workforce policies. A systems lens guided the development of a qualitative research design to describe how dual practice evolved and how it is currently managed in urban Uganda. We found that dual practice is deeply embedded in the Ugandan health system. In the absence of formal policies, the local, informal management and coping strategies provide learning opportunities which can inform the development of a formal policy on dual practice in Uganda. An in-depth understanding of dual practice is essential for health workforce policy and planning in countries where this phenomenon occurs.
Background Dual practice, when government health providers also work in the private health sector, is widespread in developing countries, particularly in settings with rapidly developing private sectors. However, it is seldom accounted for in health workforce policy and planning. Uganda has an active private sector and a high proportion of health providers working multiple jobs, particularly in the capital region. An informal, unenforced ban on dual practice in a system where high demand for patient services is constrained by low supply of health professionals creates complexity and unanticipated dynamics over time. Informal management of dual practice, or local responses to complexity, have not been previously documented and could inform health workforce policy and planning in Uganda and similar settings.
Objectives Acknowledging that the health system is a complex adaptive system, this study applied a systems lens to describe how dual practice evolved and how this phenomenon is currently managed in urban Uganda.
Methodology A qualitative research design, supplemented by a review of historical and policy documents was used to develop five case studies of government health facilities, capturing the perspective of both health providers and health managers through semi-structured in-depth interviews. This is one of the few studies examining both doctors and nurses’ perspectives on dual practice. Additionally, interviews with policy stakeholders allowed the exploration of dual practice from multiple angles, from government to private sector. A causal loop diagram was constructed using the qualitative data in order to illustrate the influence of various health system actors, as well as interactions and feedback.
Results Dual practice in Uganda is rooted in the history surrounding the professionalization of medicine, the development of the private sector, and political and economic turmoil. Private practice, and dual practice, started as a privilege for African doctors seeking autonomy and professional status. Feedback from the economic decline and the deterioration of government infrastructure, transformed dual practice into a coping mechanism for health providers who did not migrate. Over time, the government’s skepticism and resistance to dual practice increased, although enforcing a ban has consistently been met with threats from providers leaving. Most respondents believed that the majority of health providers engaged in dual practice informally. Doctors and nurses enter dual practice through a variety of mechanisms – from direct recruitment, to informal networking. Internal labor markets have emerged around major facilities, where parallel institutions conduct well-funded research and service provision, usually related to infectious diseases. Informal management approaches at the facility level vary. In smaller facilities, nurses and doctors self-organize to ensure their shifts are covered. The facility in-charges’ emphasis is on performance and coverage during government hours, although those who had done dual practice in the past apply a personalized approach. In larger facilities, specialists organize their public and private activities depending on the type of service provided, at times in coordination with colleagues and supervisors.
Conclusion The systems lens fostered an approach to capture the perspectives of multiple health system actors, historically and across various levels of the Ugandan health system. The findings confirmed that, in the absence of formal policies, health providers adopt informal approaches to coping with and managing dual practice. Health managers emphasize the government job as a primary duty, while at the same time recognizing the reality that there are advantages to dual practice, from both the individual and the societal perspectives. Doctors and nurses have each developed unique coping mechanisms. The local management and coping strategies are learning opportunities which can inform the development of a formal policy on dual practice in Uganda. An in-depth understanding of how dual practice evolves and how it is managed in a system is essential for health workforce policy and planning.

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