Govt begs for cash to buy Covid jabs

Thursday July 22 2021
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A health worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 jab during the launch of the mass vaccination at Mulago Women’s Specialised Hospital in March last year. PHOTO/FILE

By Stephen Otage
By Arthur Arnold Wadero

The government, in a re-enactment of its 2020 public appeals for help, has again asked Ugandans of goodwill, businesses and investors in the country, to contribute cash for purchase of oxygen cylinders and Covid-19 vaccines.

While receiving a donation of 300 oxygen cylinders from Nile Breweries yesterday, the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, said the government, which passed a new Budget last month, is struggling to bankroll purchase of enough vaccinate to inoculate the targeted 21.9 million Ugandans.

“I take this opportunity to call all other Ugandans and companies to step up and be counted in the national response to Covid-19,” she said adding: “You may be aware that this pandemic, most of the countries which are on top of it, have vaccinated their population. Our government is struggling to ensure that we buy as many vaccines as possible so that people get hard immunity”.

After false starts and questionable decisions, Uganda received 864,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from Covax – a global facility to enable poor countries access the scarce jabs – and an additional 100,000 doses to start national mass vaccination on March 10.

Another batch of 175,200 doses donated by the French government through Covax arrived in the country last month, with officials who doled out 2000 of these doses for discretionary use by businessman Ham Kiggundu, arguing that planned mass vaccination has been stymied by the ending 42-day lockdown.  

Both Health minister Ruth Aceng and ministry Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine, have variously said Uganda, like other poor countries, has been crowded out of vaccine access by greedy wealthy nations that made full down-payment to prebook yet-to-be manufactured jabs.

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To-date, slightly more than a million people have been vaccinated in the country, with about one-fifth taking the recommended double shots.

At yesterday’s event, Ms Nabbanja said the government as of yesterday had received only 800, of the required 18,000 oxygen cylinders today, and she asked the private sector to help out to avoid future oxygen crisis --- as experienced in June and early this month.

Mr Francis Kisirinya, the acting executive director for Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), in response to our inquiries, said they have started a campaign to mobilise their members to contribute towards vaccines.

“PSFU has a campaign for donating cylinders. The country needs 18,000, we have got 300 from Nile Breweries and government is bringing in 800. PSFU has an initiative to mobilise private sector to contribute to vaccines,” he said.

At the onset of Covid in the country in March 2020, the government reached out to well-wishers to donate various items, with President Museveni bidding for double-cabin pick-ups.

Amidst public queries and displeasures, minister Aceng early this month tabled in Parliament an accountability for donated items --- distributed between April to December 2020.

She said the KN95 masks, face shields, chloroquine tablets, medical gloves and protective suits, infrafred thermometers and food stuff were given to national and regional referral hospitals, Uganda Heart Institute, Ministry of Health, Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Namboole Covid treatment facility and the Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL).

A total of 73 double-cabin pick-ups, Dr Aceng noted, were shared between her ministry, CPHL, UVRI, Naguru, Kawempe and Kiruddu hospitals, Busia point of entry, Mulago and regional referral hospitals, 21 districts and Uganda Blood Transfusion Services in Nakasero, Kampala.

Despite receiving about Shs41 billion from the government and private individuals last year, the Health ministry only committed a substantial part for the delayed vaccine purchase in the past couple of months, even when infections and deaths exploded in late June.   

Separately, the Auditor General unearthed questionable procurements, prepaid contracts and under-deliveries in its audit of the Covid cash spend.   

Ms Nabbanja yesterday recognised Mr Kiggundu, better known as Ham, for his Shs530 million contribution on July 2 to bolster government’s pandemic response, but did not say the Ministry of Health gave him 2,000 doses of the scarce vaccines to inoculate his staff and tenants – suggesting a quid pro quo transaction.

Statement by premier Nabbanja to parliament 

‘‘ln the absence of an effective treatment, vaccination remains an important control measure for the Covid-19 pandemic. lf all eligible persons are vaccinated, we can open our economy and avoid the lockdowns which has driven our population into more poverty.

Government is, therefore, using, a multi-pronged approach to secure vaccines for the 20 million remaining eligible individuals through the following acquisition options;
1. Direct purchase of Vaccines through the COVAX facility,
2. Direct purchase of vaccines through the African Union
3. Direct purchase of vaccines from the open market. 
Various vaccines have’ been listed for use in Uganda including;
AstraZenecca- Covishield and Vaxzevria, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, Sputnik V and Sputnik Lite, Sinopharm and
Sinovac.

ln the context of global scarcity of vaccines, government through our missions abroad is aggressively searching for available sources and will procure the vaccines that we can access. Many of you will recall, that in the Budget speech, Shs560b was allocated to Covid- 19 vaccinations. The Ministry of Finance can confirm this and its availability. This may not be enough and this August House may be called upon to provide additional resources as is required.’’

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