China sponsored tests of an anti-malaria drug on patients in Mulago Hospital even when the drug had not been approved by the World Health Organisation for use, leaked US cables reveal.
The revelations are contained in a diplomatic cables leaked by whistleblower website, Wikileaks, which then America’s envoy to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, sent to Washington in February 2010 discussing Chinese “engagement” in Uganda.
Mr Lanier wrote that in a space of five years, Chinese investments in Uganda, which as late as 2005 “included only a restaurant and hotel”, had swelled to place China behind the UK with a reported $213m (Shs447 billion then) to the country by 2009.
Mr Lanier, however, wrote that “negative perceptions among many Ugandans of Sino business practices, corruption and shoddy products”, had tagged along with greater Chinese investments in Uganda, citing the anti-malaria drugs donations and queries over the multi-billion shilling national data transmission project.
“For instance, in January 2010, the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda (Sun Heping) delivered 240,000 doses of two Chinese anti-malaria drugs to Uganda at a public event that was featured in large paid advertisements in local papers,” wrote Mr Lanier, who added: “It was later revealed that one of the drugs, Arco, had not been pre-qualified by the World Health Organisation, and that part of the funding for the malaria clinic in Mulago Hospital was earmarked for testing of these drugs.”
This newspaper was unable to obtain a comment from the Chinese Embassy in Kampala but an official admitted off record that the embassy was busy with preparations to welcome a new envoy to replace Ambassador Sun Heping.
Health State Minister Richard Nduhura, who presided over of the handover of 144,000 doses of Arco and 100,000 doses of Duo-Cotexin drugs from China, told this newspaper yesterday that despite the absence of WHO clearance, the drugs were tested and passed as safe for use by the National Drug Authority (NDA).
‘Drugs were passed as safe’
Dr Nduhura suggested Mr Lanier’s cable was perhaps a reflection of “the wars” superpowers fight for economic and political influence in the world.
“The fact is that the Ministry of Health cannot accept any medicine for use unless NDA has tested that product and confirmed its safety, efficacy and quality. NDA carried out the necessary tests and confirmed their safety,” he said.
Mulago Hospital yesterday distanced itself from cable and said Arco was never administered to patients at the hospital even though the authorities could not readily say whether any other Chinese anti-malarial drugs were used.
“We will need to cross check our records but certainly we did not secure that drug (Arco),” said Mr Dan Kimosho, the hospital’s spokesperson. “For us, if a drug is not pre-qualified by WHO, we do not take it on.”
Dr Nduhura told this newspaper that given the “small quantities” of the anti-malarias, “we strictly used the medicine in regional referral hospitals.”
For the last three years, China has been donating anti-malarial drugs to Uganda, and Dr Nduhura admitted that plans are underway for “another donation this year.”