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Health workers who steal drugs culpable for deaths, says Ugandan minister

Minister of health, Dr. Jane Aceng, has said some of the deaths that happen in Uganda are as a result of health workers who steal drugs from government facilities.

Uganda health
L-R: NMS board chair, Dr Jotham Musunguzi; health minister, Dr Ruth Acheng; American ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac; and NMS general manager, Moses Kamabare, on arrival for the launch of the NSM plus enterprise resource planning system at the stores headquarters in Entebbe

The minister made the remarks on Friday, February 15, 2019 during the launch of a $10.3 million Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system at the National Medical Stores (NMS) headquarters, Entebbe in Wakiso district.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the five-year ERP system software that will be used by NMS to manage procurement, warehouse management and drug distribution.

The system will also help health facilities to manage daily businesses including accounting, procuring and ordering drugs from NMS and project management.

The disappointed minister said it was so sad and painful to see people die as a result of drug shortage, yet government procures them to save the lives of Ugandans only to be stolen at the health facilities.

“Government buys the drugs to treat Ugandans for free, but a lot have been getting lost at the health facilities by the custodians,” she said.

Dr. Aceng said her ministry would do what it takes to prosecute health workers who steal drugs and hold them accountable.

She said the ERP system is one of the measures they will get to know who has been robbing government drugs and causing unnecessary deaths of Ugandans.

“When a health worker steals drugs that are meant to save someone’s live, it causes drug stock outs in health facilities. The health worker directly sentences the patient to death. Now we have the system in place, and we need to know who is stealing the medicines and we shall deal with them accordingly,” she said.

She also advised the health workers to go back to their core code of ethics and standards of practice of saving people’s lives.

The US Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac, reaffirmed the US government’s commitment to improving the supply chain system in Uganda.

Malac said that, over the years, the U.S. government has provided significant support to Uganda to improve health for thousands of people.

 She said that, last year, the U.S gave more than $500 million, making it the largest single donor to Uganda’s health system.

She disclosed that the fund has assisted more than 10 million Ugandans get tested for HIV, contributed to the largest-ever distribution of insecticide treated bed nets in the world and more than 700,000 women have safe deliveries in health facilities.

The ambassador said the launch of the ERP was the latest milestone demonstrating the strong partnership between Uganda, US and other stakeholders to accelerate Uganda’s progress towards an effective and sustainable supply chain system.

“An efficient and effective supply chain is a component for providing Ugandans access to quality health care in order to lead a healthy and productive life,” Malac said.

Malac said her government was impressed with the way NMS has managed $27 million commodities that they provided over two years to fill the important gap in antiretroviral (ARVS) drugs.

She however noted that getting drugs to over one million Ugandans living with HIV/AIDS in many health facilities across the country is a formidable challenge that calls for better health systems.

“These drugs are a matter of life and death for the people who need them and no matter how different the logistics, we must succeed in delivering them,” she added.

Malac said the ERP system would provide a viable solution for improving the public sector’s over all transparency, accountability, forecasting and management of health supplies.

 She tasked the NMS staff to manage the system well in order to benefit Ugandans and do its intended purpose.

“Managing this new system is not a matter of simply installing new software on some computers, it is an entirely new way of doing business which requires changing organisational processes and managing the change throughout the supply chain,” she said.

She commended the ministry of finance for its commitment in financing the health sector and the local government which she said plays a critical role in the supply chain cycle and puts the drugs and commodities into the patient’s hands.

 She however asked the Ugandan government to increase its funding for health sector.

The NMS general Manager, Moses Kamabare, said the system would eliminate the use of paper work and saving health facilities huge amount of money they have been spending in delivering hard copies of their drugs and other medical supplies orders.

Kamabare said the ERP system will also help health actors including the health in-charges to monitors drugs right from the manufactures, to the NMS stores and delivery of drugs to their respective health centers.

“Because the health in-charges will be able to see the supply chain from the manufacturers, to our stores, to the time when the drugs are loaded to truck to their areas, it will wipe out the negative mentality that NMS were supplying empty boxes to health centers and drugs that the health centers did not ask for,” he said.

Dr. Diana Atwine, the ministry of health’s permanent secretary, said the system would silence politicians who always claim that government is doing nothing towards improving the health of Ugandans.

“Health is one of the of leading agendas politicians use to discredit government. The ERP system launch is timely as we near election campaigns, politicians will have nothing to say about the poor health service delivery as this system will help us to tract, monitor, account to the people and increase transparency,” she said. 

The launch was attended by the NMS Chairman of the Board, Dr. Jotham Musinguzi; the Kabarole district health officer, Dr. Richard Mugahi; and former Mbarara municipality MP, Dr. Medard Bitekyerezo, among others.

By Hope Mafaranga

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