Govt should address stock-outs of medicine

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 issue: Drugs stock-outs.

Our view: The people responsible at NMS should step up their planning, budgeting and coordination efforts so that all health centres receive their orders.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health released the Annual Health Sector Performance Report for the Financial Year 2021/2022 which highlighted major areas that must be improved to ensure access to quality and timely health care.

Among the recommendations by the report was the creation of an emergency financing mechanism for the health sector, need to train more specialists to address gaps at the specialised and referral hospitals, and increase of wage provisions for health workers to fill the gaps at all levels.

The report also highlighted the need to address the stock-out of key commodities such as laboratory supplies, personal protective equipment and other essential medicines.

Stock-outs of medical supplies has been a perennial issue that the report noted as being of “greatest concern” regarding access to health services among users of government health facilities.

Sadly, the issue of stock-outs has been one Uganda has grappled with for decades. Not even the move to create the National Medical Stores (NMS) through an Act of Parliament in 1993 has solved the problem.

Only this year, Members of Parliament were forced to raise the matter before House after several lawmakers reported that their constituents could not access drugs, even as basic as Panadol.

In most of the lower health facilities around the country, drugs last not more than a month after supply, which experts have attributed to the increasing number of patients, which is not matched with the supply.

The budget available for procurement of essential medicines has for most times remained stagnant over the last years while the population has been increasing at an average of three percent, according to Centre for Health Human Right and Development.

In the current financial year, for instance, Shs531 billion was allocated to NMS to buy and distribute drugs and according to the National Budget Framework Paper for the 2023/24 financial year, it is projected that NMS will receive almost the same amount.

Solutions to this decades-old problem have been prescribed and told over and over, but at the end of the day very little seems to be done to resolve it.

Among the major problems causing medical stock-outs is poor planning. The people responsible at NMS should step up their planning, budgeting and coordination efforts so that all health centres receive their orders.

All hospital managers and those in charge of health centres should regularly assess their needs and be able to predict the amount of medical supplies based on their disease burden.

Then finally, the Ministry of Finance should ensure adequate and timely allocations for medical supplies so that the supply of medicines is not interrupted.

This multi-sectoral approach will ensure that all medicines are available to Ugandans who need them, when they need them.

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