Pharmacy owners in the country have petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, to prevail over the National Drug Authority (NDA) in regard to the newly proposed licensing guidelines.
Uganda Pharmacy Owners Association (UPOA), with a membership of more than 300, contends that the licensing guidelines proposing a ban on the opening up of new pharmacies in Kampala, is a move to restrict drug access to the public.
The NDA 2018 guidelines require all pharmacies operating retail and wholesale sections in one premise to have separate pharmacists for each section. In the Ugandan setting, this is hard to achieve.
Following the guideline, UPOA asked NDA to consider its implementation in a phased manner over a three-year period for existing pharmacies, and immediately for new pharmacies. But this seems to have fallen on deaf ears as NDA has continued to close the retail sections of some pharmacies.
UPOA has called for an urgent resolution of these matters to avert a strike through closure of the pharmacies. They also intend to stop the supply of medicines to the public, and also seek the removal of the NDA board.
Much as the move by NDA seems to be in good faith, drug operators say it will not only hinder the growth of pharmaceutical services, but also deny thousands of Ugandans access to medicines.
In the words of the acting secretary to NDA, Ms Helen Ndagije, the new guidelines are meant to ensure equal distribution of drugs in the country because Kampala is over-served. Much as this could be true, NDA must dialogue with the pharmacy operators to reach some consensus.
Already, NDA has distance restrictions of 500 metres between pharmacies in Kampala and 200 metres for the ones upcountry. These guidelines are sufficient to address NDA’s concerns of regulating drug supplies.
Although medicines are supposed to be a highly regulated affair, Uganda is a free market economy.
Our take is that without pharmacies, NDA will have no job, and pharmacy operators need NDA to work smoothly. NDA should, therefore, listen to the calls of the operators and endeavour to address their needs. For instance, why should NDA fail to curb the mushrooming illegal drug shops that cause unfair competition? NDA should also revise, downwards, the taxes charged on drugs.
Government, through the Ministry of Health, must wake up; take an ethical side in the fight so as to avert a possible drug cataclysm in Uganda. But after all said and done, free markets allow the forces of demand and supply to play at ease. Although regulation is good, we should allow pharmacy owners to operate.