By An Executive Editor
Bitter voices are beginning to come out clearer after years of silence and murmur. Between 2015 or thereabout and to date, the government through its agencies – the National Medical Stores – NMS – Joint Medical Stores – and the National Drugs Authority – NDA- have been procuring drugs from pharmacies from among other areas including those in the Central Business District (CBD) of Kampala.
However, a well-placed source tells us that some of these drugs near expiry (at the time of supplies).
“It’s intentional. Money from the procurement is shared between the top officials in the government yet causing financial loss to government at the same time because these drugs are recalled back to NDA and NMS,” a knowledgeable source says.
According to our source, the cartel prefers to trade with pharmacies of Indian origin and that it has been going on for some time. Already, the source notes, some officials in government are battling criminal charges in court for supplying expired drugs.
“What bothers is that the pharmacies remain in operation. Yet individual officials are battling these charges. These things are beginning to come up because it is too much,” the source adds.
Irrefutable sources say the most recent expired supplies have been Halothane inhalation, humaster autocal, nasal oxygen cannula twin and ciprofloxacin 500 mg among others. These were either recalled back to the government stores or consumed innocently by the public.
In a 2018 article (updated in 2021), the Daily Monitor quoted the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr. Diana Atwine to have said that the Ministry was set to destroy between 1200 to 1500 tons of expired drugs.
The last exercise took place in 2012 when close to 1000 tons of expired drugs were also destroyed.
“This process will create more space for adequate storage of medicines and other health supplies delivered by National Medical Stores (NMS), and Joint Medical Store (JMS), and prevent the risk of; public health hazards, pilferage and relabeling as a result of keeping such items in health facilities for long. Expired pharmaceuticals are a growing concern in the country and can also result in a risk to national security,” she said.
According to Moses Kamabare, the general manager of the National medical store, while there have been cases of drug stock outs, other drugs are also getting expired all the time.
He however, said many of the expired drugs are those for rare diseases where the number of patients are fewer. Kamabare said based on predictions, in some cases, they have overstocked supplies which never translated into higher demands leading them to expire.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) under the Civil Society Budget Advisory Group (CSBAG) want the Ministry of Health to answer a series of questions regarding the forthcoming mass disposal of pharmaceutical waste.
Among the questions they want answered is why the government disposes of expired drugs yet the country has suffered from drug stock outs.
CSBAG brings together more than 70 CSOs in the country, including Action Aid, Forum for Women in Democracy, Uganda Debt Network, Uganda Women’s Network, African Center for Trade and Development, Water Aid, Platform for Citizen Participation and Accountability and Desutsche Stiftung Weltbevolkerung among others.
Julius Mukunda, National Coordinator CSBAG, told the URN in 2018 that while the disposal of expired drugs is very important, the exercise is wasteful at the end of the day.
The Auditor General’s 2016/2017 report on the Financial Statements of NMS showed that items worth 3.5 billion Shillings remained undistributed to 649 health centres around the country. The report adds that 98 health centres each had a balance of drugs worth over two million Shillings.
Muklunda said that the Ministry of Health should explain how the government can have a large load of drugs to dispose of yet the country has been suffering from drug stock outs.
According to the 2016 Auditor General’s report, medicines that are widely used in the fight against malaria were not available in certain health centres. The report adds that Mama Kits for expectant mothers were out of stock for 320 days while Coartem for 285 days in different parts of the country.
Sophie Kakembo Nampewo, a Budget Policy Specialist, at the time said that the ministry needs to give the public a breakdown of what drugs are going to be disposed of so that the people responsible can be held accountable.
In our next story, we reveal the pharmacies and government officials involved in procuring drugs that are about to expire, causing financial loss to the government!
WATCH THIS SPACE!