What you need to know:
- What is the deal? Questions raised after Ministry of Health gives Ham Kiggundu 2,000 doses of the scarce Covid-19 vaccines to immunise his tenants and workers.
- Health ministry and Mr Ham Kiggundu deny that the latter received the vaccines as part of the considerations for his Shs530m donation.
The Ministry of Health last week gave Hamis Kiggundu 2,000 doses of the scarce Covid-19 vaccines to immunise his tenants and workers, barely two weeks after the businessman donated Shs530 million to bolster the government’s pandemic response.
The government’s gifting of the jabs to a private citizen at a time when tens of designated vaccination centres are out of stock, and thousands of Ugandans are unsuccessful in the scramble to get inoculated, has raised questions about the prioritisation and selection criteria employed by Health officials.
It also remained unclear whether another wealthy individual could be allocated substantial doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for discretional use if they donated amounts similar to Ham’s July 2 offer – in which case the 175,200 doses given for free by France last month would be staked to the highest bidder.
Only 5 per cent of the targeted 21.9 million Ugandans had by last Wednesday received the shot and, of these, just 201,053 had got the prescribed double Oxford-AstraZeneca shots while up to 878,890 have received single jabs, rendering their immunity to the disease less effective.
In multiple televised addresses, President Museveni said Uganda, currently in a second lockdown, would fully reopen only when at least 4.4m Ugandans are vaccinated against Covid, among them, mandatorily teachers and health workers who still need to keep their government jobs.
The national vaccination has not gone at pace, Health minister Jane Aceng and the ministry Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine have previously said, because global competition by wealthier nations that have made full down-payment to pre-book future stock, has left Uganda idling in the queue of jab seekers.
As a result, the government decided to handpick health workers, members of the security forces, teachers and citizens who are sexagenarians or older and with comorbidities as groups to be vaccinated first.
With high hesitancy and low initial uptake of the vaccines, there were fears that unused first batch of 964,000 doses donated through Covax and by the Indian government could expire.
To ramp up the inoculation exercise, the Health ministry in May organised a week-long mass immunisation at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala, where mostly the young poured in record numbers amid rising Covid-19 infections and deaths that culminated in the current second lockdown.
The high demand for the jabs exposed the government’s unpreparedness to vaccinate the targeted 21.9 million citizens as Health officials admitted that they had not paid the money they received from Finance and well-wishers last year to buy the vaccines and were scouting for stocks in China, Russia, South Korea, and Cuba.
The uncertainty was broken by the French government that donated 175,200 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines this month and out of which the government handed over to businessman Kiggundu 2,000 doses.
Both Ministry of Health officials and Mr Ham Kiggundu deny that the latter received the Covid vaccines as part of the considerations for his Shs530m donation, but the businessman’s statement on the day of giving the money on July 2 and follow up message posted on his website borders on a quid pro quo transaction.
“The money can be used to procure 15,000 vaccines, of which 5,000 can be used for my employees and tenants while the 10,000 can go to the rest of Ugandans,” Mr Kiggundu said while handing over the money to Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja. Two weeks later, he received an allocation of 2,000 doses even when the money he gave had not been committed to buy vaccines, raising questions on how the businessman – even if for a pay – could have received the jabs ahead of remaining priority groups.
In the case of Ham, a politically-connected businessman who snapped up a deal to rebuild Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium in Kampala unadvertised, the jabs are being administered to personal employees and tenants – both not in Health ministry’s priority categories.
On the home page of the businessman’s website, www.hamenterprises.co.ug, and under the title Private Sector Covid-19 Vaccination Initiative, the company notes: “Our CEO, Mr Hamis Kiggundu, has already pioneered the cause by providing money for purchasing 15,000 doses: 5000 being for staff and clients and the 10,000 for other fellow Ugandans and has officially been given the presidential obligation to voluntarily mobilise the private sector towards vaccination of Ugandans.”
The government is struggling to access vaccines due to high global demand and actions by developed countries that are manufacturing the vaccines to prioritise their population.
Only 1.08 million of the targeted 21.9 million population have so far been vaccinated using donated jabs.
Dr Alfred Driwale, the head of immunisation programme at Ministry of Health, told Daily Monitor last Thursday that they were racing to exhaust the doses at hand and that Mr Kiggundu happened to present an organised group of people.
He said the vaccine doses given to Kiggundu were part of the 7,000 doses that Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) was struggling to exhaust because of the lockdown restrictions.
“We had assigned to KCCA 56,000 doses [of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine] to be administered. We wanted the [donated 175,200] vaccines to be exhausted within one week, but KCCA raised [an issue] that they were having a challenge in exhausting the doses,” he explained.
He added: “Because of that, KCCA asked us to redistribute the balance [of 7,000 doses]. So, we redistributed the balances to Uganda Prisons [Services], Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), and we gave the rest [for vaccination] in Wakiso. During that allocation process, Ham [Kiggundu] said he had mobilised people, not his workers only, and provided venue for vaccination activity to take place. The vaccination location is open to other people...”
There is no evidence that last week’s immunisation at the Ham Towers in downtown Kampala, owned by Mr Kiggundu, was open to the public and our journalists who attempted to access the venue were turned away on grounds that the jabs were for Ham’s tenants and workers.
Dr Driwale, describing the jabs given to Mr Kiggundu as “vaccines given to organised group of people”, said it is not the first time the Ministry is doing that.
Asked yesterday how he knew about the existence of vaccines for individuals and how he accessed it, Mr Kiggundu said his inquisitiveness paid off and “if you want to know what is happening, you can get to know it. I was interested in vaccination and I went and inquired and got it”.
In a telephone interview last evening, the businessman said the vaccination at his business premises was being managed by the Health ministry whose staff he said had vaccinated 1,200 of people he mobilised.
The vaccines, he said, were not part of the 5,000 doses he requested for on July 2 – when he donated the Shs530m to aid the government’s Covid fight.
“They were only vaccinating marginalised groups and those with underlying conditions among my workers. I have close to 10,000 people,” Mr Kiggundu said.
He added: “They stopped vaccination [last Saturday, but] they [Ministry of Health officials] will carry on after receiving the full doses that the government is procuring. They will contribute to the other need of mine [provide 5,000 doses of vaccines] when those vaccines come.”
Earlier, Dr Driwale said the vaccines given to the group organised by Mr Kiggundu “has nothing to do with the contribution Ham made last time”.
“His [Mr Kiggundu] contribution has nothing to do with Ministry of Health as of now. He donated that money to the Office of the Prime Minister…” he said.
Asked whether the vaccines given to Mr Kiggundu were those originally meant for individuals receiving the second dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs as President Museveni directed on June 18, Dr Driwale said it depends on the judgment of health workers.
“But the guideline is clear that the vaccines should be given to those who are due for the second dose. But if someone is in the prioritised category, I have not been told they are being sent away. The health workers at the frontline should use judgment. If someone of 85 years comes for the first dose, should you refuse to vaccinate them?” he said.
The ministry said Kampala struggled to exhaust its doses due to lockdown restrictions which contrasts with its earlier pronouncement that there is a clear plan to ensure vaccination continues smoothly.
On June 23, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, said: “In Kampala, it [vaccination] will be conducted by KCCA and UPDF health workers. Each division will have eight vaccination centres within a walking distance.”
But last Thurday, Dr Driwale blamed the low jab uptake, which he said triggered them to engage Mr Kiggundu,.
“Because of the lockdown, people who were supposed to be vaccinated within Kampala, but live in Wakiso, couldn’t come to be vaccinated in their original centre. Before lockdown, people who were at the business centres in Kampala got vaccinated with doses from KCCA. For this time, lockdown locked them out of KCCA [designated vaccination centres]. So, the vaccine couldn’t be absorbed fast,” he said.