Albinos, Unbs lock horns over lotion testing fees

Persons with albinism pose for a photo after their general assembly in Jinja City ahead of the International Albinism Awareness Day celebrations slated for June 13. PHOTO | ABUBAKER KIRUNDA

Persons living with albinism are up in arms with Uganda National Bureau of Standards (Unbs) over the latter’s decision to continuously charge “testing fees” on sunscreen lotions they use for protection against strong sunshine.
The Albinos, under the umbrella body of Source of the Nile Union of Persons living with Albinism (Snupa), say Unbs’ stance contradicts the Ministry of Finance that scrapped taxes on such lotions.
Mr Peter Ogik, the Snupa Executive Director, says the fees have been a hindrance to the organisation’s efforts to help many poor persons living with albinism access the lotion.
“We appreciate the government efforts to scrap taxes on the lotions we import to protect our skin from strong sunshine, but on the contrary, Unbs is taking us back to zero by asking for money to test the quality,’’ Mr Ogik said.
Mr Ogik’s concerns come ahead of the International Albinism Awareness Day celebrations slated for June 13 in Jinja City.
According to Mr Ogik, the sun screen lotions help them to live longer by preventing development of skin cancer on their bodies, which is their number one killer disease.
He added: “As an organisation, we try to persuade donors to buy for us these lotions and find means to transport them; but even when we succeed with that again, we find obstacles in getting money to pay for testing fees yet our people are poor.”
Mr Ogik wondered why Unbs doesn’t levy charges on testing the quality of drugs brought into the country for distribution in various government health centres, but opts to capitalise on fees for sun screen lotions, which he says equally, serve as drugs for supporting lives of Albinos.
The Snupa chairperson, Mr Paul Ssezibwa, told the members during their general assembly that frustration in distribution of sunscreen lotions during the Covid-19 induced lockdown left about 24 members dead and appealed to Unbs to stop the charges in order to enable faster delivery of the lotions to them.
“Since 2019 to-date, we have lost about 24 members because transport was stopped and our patients were not getting the lotions to apply on their bodies to fight skin cancer. I am worried that if Unbs maintains the charges, many of us are likely to die because the government does not provide this drug (lotion) in health centres where we go,” Mr Ssezibwa added.
Ms Fazira Kawuma, the deputy Jinja City Mayor, who doubles as the female councilor for Persons with Disability (PWD), called for government intervention.
She said it is unfortunate that a government body is frustrating Snupa, which is supplementing its (government) work by delaying the process of maintaining its citizens in good health by asking them to pay money for testing the quality of the would-be medicine for Albinos.
“The government should have stopped these charges yesterday because Snupa is standing in for it by importing the sun screen lotion which it (the government) is supposed to provide,” she said.
Ms Barbra Kamusiime, the Unbs Public Relations Officer, however, says: “It’s not possible to scrap the charges because they are used to meet the costs of reagents used in testing the quality of the products imported.”
Ms Kamusiime said the products are tested to ensure that they meet relevant Ugandan standards in an effort to protect consumers, adding that the charges for cosmetics, including sun screen lotions, range from Shs20,000 to Shs400,000 depending on the parameters involved during the testing process.
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