300,000 lack ARVs as Shs50b is idle
By Yasiin Mugerwa
Posted Saturday, June 18 2011 at 00:00
The government is sitting on Shs50.4 billion in unused donor funds for people living with HIV/Aids even as more than 300,000 people who require treatment continue to lack access to the life-saving antiretroviral drugs.
This disclosure is contained in the Global Fund May 11 audit report, in which the Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, faulted Ministry of Health officials for failure to utilise more than 85 per cent of the funds yet there are patients who need drugs but unable to access them.
During the year under review (2010), Ministry of Health received $24.1 million (about Shs51.8 billion) from the Global Fund to procure ARVs medicines.
Records show this money was received in two disbursements of $4.2 million (about Shs7.9 bilion) in November 2009 and $19.9 million (about Shs43.8 billion) in June 2010.
“Out of this amount (Shs51.7 billion), only Shs7.9 billion was spent on procurement of ARVs and programme coordinator’s salary, leaving unutilised balance of Shs43.8 billion,” Mr Muwanga said in his report forwarded to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on June 8.
“This reflects low absorption capacity of the project funds which makes the attainment of the intended objectives within the stated time impossible.”
Another Shs6.6 billion under the support for national prevention, care, treatment, laboratory services, strategic information and policies, for HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted diseases and Tuberculosis under the USA’s PEPFAR project also remains unused due to unexplained circumstances.
While Dr Asuman Lukwago, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, noted the concern, he told the Auditor General that the government had appointed National Medical Stores as the procurement agent for pharmaceuticals and health supplies for the public sector.
He said the move was designed to improve funds absorption “most of which are pharmaceuticals and health supplies which have experienced delays and therefore contributed significantly to slow absorption (of the Global Fund money)”.
However, sources in the ministry, who requested not to be named because they are not supposed to talk to the press, told Saturday Monitor on Thursday that the delay in signing the contract and disbursing Global Fund money was due to a range of issues related to internal government and health ministry approvals and other “bureaucratic” problems.
As Aids money remains in the bank, in some clinics and hospitals, all new HIV/Aids patients go on a waiting list.
A slot opens when a patient dies, highlighting an emerging crisis. Uganda is the first country where clinics and hospitals sometimes turn patients away. There are currently about 500,000 patients, who need treatment, but only 200,000 are getting it, but each year, an additional 110,000 are infected.
According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the lifetime cost for treating a person with AIDS, including drugs, tests and medical salaries, is about Shs23 million. This means, the Shs43.8 billion in unused Global Fund money would treat more than 1,907 people living with the HIV/Aids.
The Americans have been generous to Ugandans, paying for more than 80 per cent of its drugs as officials in the Ministry of Health sit on millions of dollars meant for Global Fund project seeking to reduce the incidence rate of HIV/Aids by 40 per cent by next year.
The project was intended to mitigate the health effects of HIV/Aids and improve the quality of life of persons infected with the virus.
The money was also intended to strengthen the national capacity to coordinate and manage the multi-sectoral response to HIV/Aids.
Asked to explain the fate of unused Aids money, Mr Muwanga on Thursday advised Ministry of Health officials to use the money on intended activities and address inconsistencies to ensure that donors don’t cut aid for HIV/Aids.
The Ministry of Education returned over Shs10 billion in unutilised funds to the Consolidated Fund and roads body also failed to utilize more than Shs200 billion last year meant for improving on the roads in the country.