NDA must prioritise empowering citizens

Wednesday September 11 2019

Impounded. National Drug Authority officials

Impounded. National Drug Authority officials display drugs they impounded in an operation conducted in Hoima Town in July. FILE PHOTO 

By Editor

By yesterday, a crackdown by the National Drug Authority (NDA) had shut 273 out of 879 drug shops that experts inspected in metropolitan Kampala in the past week.
That is three in every 10 drug shops in the metropolis closed!
Reasons: Lack of operating licence, forged permits, unqualified operators and proprietors raking in cash from illegal sale of government-procured drugs. We are alarmed by the sheer criminality in the drug trade, which poses existential threat to Ugandans.
Why and how?
Medicines principally help cure disease, although some could be administered to provide pain relief for the terminally-ill. However, involuntary or deliberate misuse of drugs due to easy access in Uganda has manifested in suicides, drug resistance, patients sharing dosages and wrong self-prescription --- all perilous practices.
The abuse is exacerbated by the proliferation of drug shops in the country, whose owners are purely profit-driven. This presents dividends for last mile communities in as much as it endangers them.
It is our position that there is a way out of the conundrum: state intervention.
The core role of the government and its leaders is securing citizens who put them in positions of authority and in whose names and on whose mandate they act.
In most of the western world, it is hard for an individual to buy certain drugs over the counter without a prescription by a certified doctor. But in Uganda, a customer can literally buy any medicine over the counter in a drug shop or pharmacy as long as they can pay for it.
The situation is worsened by the fact, as shown in Twaweza’s research this year, that one of every three patients cannot find prescribed drugs at public health facilities.
The fallback position is at best private drug shops and at worst witchdoctor’s shrines.
The inimical practice of self-prescription places high-grade drugs needlessly in hands that don’t require it, plays midwife to wrong treatment and erodes efficiency and efficacy of drugs due to compromised transportation or storage conditions.
This is why we ask that the government acts to stop the sale of any type of medicines over the counter to whichever paying client. We argue that access to certain drugs must be restricted to prescription by qualified pharmacists based on findings by fit-and-proper doctors.
The government must also stem dumping of due-to-expire medicines that some humanitarian actors parachute in during crises. Whereas we welcome the ongoing crackdown by NDA, whose dictum is ‘safe drugs save lives’, we demand it does more to sensitise and empower the ordinary citizen to detect and avoid unsafe drugs.