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87 lose jobs as US cuts funding

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A woman takes a blood test during a Rotary campaign. PHOTO BY RAchel MAbala 

By Tabu Butagira, Agatha Ayebazibwe and Stephen Otage

Posted  Thursday, March 13   2014 at  02:00
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KAMPALA.

More than 80 Ugandan health professionals, among them laboratory experts, field officers and managers, have been rendered jobless after the US government in an expression of its displeasure over the Anti-Homosexuality law, suspended financing agreement for a project employing them.
The 87 employees had just been re-hired last month on HIV-related programmes, Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Asuman Lukwago said yesterday.
Statistics on people receiving HIV care under the suspended project was unavailable by press time, but officials warned of likely stock-out of reagents and equipment for laboratory diagnostics.

“The [cooperative financing] agreement is on hold. We don’t know how long this [suspension] will take, but negotiations are ongoing,” Dr Lukwago said.
The decision to freeze the financing was “abrupt”, he said, and Uganda government needs to act quickly to pad the financing gap.
Dr Joshua Musinguzi, the manager for HIV/Aids programmes in the Health ministry, yesterday said the freeze would only affect human resource, and not other US-funded interventions such as ARV drugs.

This is the first adverse consequence of Washington’s ongoing review of relations with Uganda over the anti-gay law, and officials last evening hinted on the possibility of additional unspecified actions.
Prior to the last month’s enactment of the law, President Barack Obama warned of its potential to “complicate valued” US-Uganda relationship, and Secretary of State John Kerry announced broad review of their engagement with Kampala once President Museveni assented to the law on February 24.
Mr Daniel Travis, the public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kampala, said they spent $3.9m (Shs9.8b) in 2013 on the project, although the amount available has varied over the last 10 years.

“Our relationship with Uganda and its people is very important to us, and therefore we wish to be as thoughtful and deliberate as possible as we seek to preserve the most important elements of our partnership and, at the same time, stay true to our own values,” he said in an email reply. “As a result of this review process, a portion of the US Centers for Disease Control’s cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Health has been put on hold pending this review.”
Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden have since withheld or re-routed millions of dollars in planned budget support while the World Bank is stalling decision on $90m (Shs225b) loan to bolster Uganda’s healthcare.
Ministry of Finance was guarded in responses to our enquiries on the ramifications of the decision, with its spokesman saying most “core activities” in the 2013/14 budget have been covered this third-quarter.

This assurance came just a day after State Health minister, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, made a passionate plea to donors not to abandon Uganda.

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