Health, Finance ministries clash over drug stock-outs
What you need to know:
- The exchange arose after Dr Aceng told the House the problem was triggered by shortfalls at the Finance ministry, a claim that didn’t sit well with her counterpart.
Parliament was yesterday treated to a heated clash between Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng and junior Finance minister Henry Musasizi over drug stock-outs plaguing hospitals across the country.
The exchange arose after Dr Aceng told the House the problem was triggered by shortfalls at the Finance ministry, a claim that didn’t sit well with Mr Musasizi.
Minister Musasizi insisted that this was a flawed account of events, forcing Deputy House Speaker Thomas Tayebwa to intervene.
“Let’s first cool down the guns because this is a matter which shouldn’t have come here. This is a matter for the executive to handle,” Mr Tayebwa counselled, adding, “This should have gone to the Prime Minister.”
Mr Tayebwa consequently directed that Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja holds an urgent meeting with the two warring ministers before reporting to the House in under 24 hours.
“Rarely do I use the language of directing, but I hereby direct that the Prime Minister holds an urgent meeting between the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance and report back [today],” Mr Tayebwa said.
Dr Aceng blamed the stock-outs on either insufficient or delayed release of funds to the drug distributor, National Medical Stores (NMS).
“The issue of timely availability of funds for distribution of Essential Medicines and Health Supplies (EMHS) has been raised by National Medical Stores a number of times,” Minister Aceng said.
She added: “Distribution of EMHS is a continuous activity which is based on a pre-determined schedule. For this to be achieved, it presupposes that funds for the distribution are readily available. This has not been the case, most especially at the beginning of the Financial Year.”
Dr Aceng also revealed that the matter predates the Covid-19 pandemic that merely exacerbated the state of affairs.
Last year, Mr Moses Kamabare, the NMS general manager, raised red flags over the shortage of funds to facilitate the distribution of drugs in a letter dated October 3, 2022. The letter was addressed to the Finance ministry permanent secretary but went unnoticed. Last year’s Ebola outbreak compounded the situation as the health docket was forced to work off a constricted resource envelope.
“Under the current system, NMS is unable to have funds required for delivery of medicines and medical supplies available on the first day of every quarter yet delivery of medicines and medical supplies is a continuous process that must not stop,” Dr Aceng said.
She added: “With specific reference to [the] Financial Year 2022-2023, actual funds for the first quarter were not available to NMS until the first week of November 2022. Such a delay of over two months in the distribution of EMHS is a very long time whose spiral effects are being in the current stock outs.”
To avert the crisis, Dr Aceng demanded that the Ministry of Finance ensures that timely releases are effected and NMS “be treated as a unique entity.”
Whereas Mr Musasizi acknowledged most of the concerns raised by his counterpart in the Ministry of Health, he insisted that NMS had already been advised on a string of remedies to address the concern.
“We have advised NMS to adopt a proper quarterly resource planning and make use of the prepayment and advanced functionality of EMHS to promptly process supplies and other payments,” Mr Musasizi said.
He added: “We have recommended to NMS to use the contracting framework that eases medicine transportation. This would enable timely delivery of much needed medical supplies to the health facilities.”