Govt looks to technology to stop drug theft, stock-outs

A staff of National Medical Stores at their new pharmaceutical warehouse at Kajjansi on November 3. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • The daily operations of purchasing, accounting, and ordering drugs from NMS have since been digitalised.

For many years, several public hospitals across the country expressed concern about delayed delivery of drugs by the National Medical Stores (NMS).
As a result, this led to drug stock outs in many public hospitals and health centres across the country. For instance, in Pallisa in 2021, the district health officer, Dr Godfrey Mulekwa, said they had not received drugs from NMS for the past five months.

“The situation is bad and at times, we go an extra mile to move to other districts to seek some drugs,” he said.
But the NMS attributed the situation to supply chain issues. For instance, NMS would receive orders for medicine deliveries from the administrators of healthcare facilities on paper.
Orders would frequently be placed incorrectly, and occasionally these papers would go missing.
In order to resolve the issue, NMS and USAID collaborated to develop the NMS+ enterprise resource planning (ERP) system as a way of digitising the healthcare supply chain.
The daily operations of purchasing, accounting, and ordering medications from NMS have since been digitalised.

During a recent visit to NMS offices, lawmakers on the health committee were impressed by the new digitalised healthcare supply chain and urged NMS to utilise it to solve the problem of stock outs and theft of government drugs.
Dr Charles Ayume, the chairperson of Parliament’s Health Committee, said NMS’ new system “enhances accountability in the drug supply chain system across all health facilities in the country” by enabling medical facilities to obtain medications online.
Mr Stephen Kisuuze, the IT director of NMS, told the MPs that the system is assisting in streamlining and accelerating the distribution of medicinal medications and removing delays brought on by antiquated technology.
Mr Kisuze said more than 3,400 public health facilities in Uganda are digitally connected to NMS through the ERP, enabling them to place online orders for medical supplies.

While there is a tracking device to monitor the passage of pharmaceuticals from storage to the final consumer, the USAID-funded system is projected to reduce occurrences of drug theft at the level of health facilities.
The MPs also raised concerns how lack of Internet access to rural areas could affect ERP system.
But the Executive Director of National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), Dr Hatwib Mugasa, said they have teamed up with other partners to give remote hospitals access to electricity and the Internet.
In the next five years, NMS officials told MPs, all healthcare facilities should be able to use the contemporary system.

The new NMS drug distribution method uses a delivery note in triplicate that both the district health officer and the health centre in charge must sign and keep. This is meant to address allegations that some boxes are delivered to districts without drugs.
NMS officials said by the end of 2022, 1,621 of the 3,400 facilities had already started ordering their necessary medications and medical supplies through the NMS+.
With assistance from USAID, NMS had also trained more than 7,500 health workers on how to use the system.