14 February 2013

Uganda: Govt Urged to Increase Funding for Disease Prevention Programmes

Rather than channeling more than half of the health budget into curative and rehabilitative health programmes, health experts have urged the government to increase its budget allocation for preventive health if Uganda's disease burden is to be controlled.

The experts were engaging hundreds of health journalists from across Uganda at the start of a three-day Health Journalism conference which began on Feb.13 in Kampala.

Dr. Margaret Mungherera, the president of both the Uganda and World Medical Associations particularly noted that although Uganda's population was rapidly increasing, the national budgetary allocation for the health sector, mainly sanitation, has not increased over the last five years.

"We cannot talk about prevention being better than cure when we are doing nothing to show," she said.

While talking about the wave of zoonotic epidemics (Ebola, Jiggers and Marburg) that have been ravaging Uganda in recent years, Mungherera noted that in order to control them, there is need to appreciate the fact that diseases are best prevented at animal level and therefore increasing budgetary allocation to disease prevention and control in animals could go a long way in reducing Uganda's overall disease burden.

She for instance argued that whereas treatment of rabies needs five injections valued at US $2 each, vaccinating a dog costs ten times less.

Dr. Sam Okuonzi, the MP for Vurra County in Arua District explained that at the moment Uganda is suffering from a double disease burden where infectious diseases or diseases of poverty (cholera, diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS) are not only still ravaging the majority of the population but also there is a rapid increase of non-communicable diseases--diseases which used to be associated with affluence (Diabetes, Hyper tension, Cardio-Vascular disease, Kidney disease, Cancers).

Okuonzi noted that the reason as to why non-communicable diseases are on the rise is that there are no deliberate efforts from the government to educate them about their lifestyle.

For instance, he said, there is urgent need to educate people about the reckless consumption of animal fat which is the leading cause of heart attack; uncontrolled consumption of salt and sugar especially for people above 35.

However, Dr Lawrence Kagwa, the former executive director of Mulago National Referral Hospital urged Ugandans to take full responsibility for their health before blaming the government for everything.

"Health starts from our homes, and then into schools, workplaces and the community. It is an individual responsibility and therefore the notion that the government is not doing this or that is wrong," Dr. Kagwa said.

He noted that although the government is willing to fund the health sector, it has many competing priorities and therefore individuals should own up and take full responsibility for their health.

By individual Ugandans doing this (taking responsibility), the disease burden in the country would reduce by over 70%, Kagwa argued.

Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, the MP for Kinkizi East in Kanungu District said the rise in incidence of communicable diseases is due to the fact that the environment is deteriorating at a faster rate. In addition, he said, people's diet and nutrition have changed while there have been rapid improvement in technology.

All the speakers agreed that although funding to the health ministry is still inadequate, proper utilization of the little resources must be adhered to.

Baryomunsi added that the health ministry's inspecting function at household and community level which used to be strong in the 1960's through the 1980's must be re-awakened.

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