A June 2015 report by the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit of the Finance ministry gives a grim picture of public health facilities. The report shows that for a whole year, more than 90 per cent of public health facilities reported non-supply of ordered medical items, including drugs and stationary. Close to two years later, the perennial problem of drug shortage has not been resolved.
In August last year, this newspaper - in a space of just one week - published three stories about drug shortage in Arua Regional Referral Hospital, Jinja mental hospital, and a health centre in Mubende District.
In the Jinja case, the shortage of drugs had lasted for nearly nine months by the time the story was filed. In most cases, the shortages include essential medicines used to treat common diseases such as malaria, cough, diarrhoea and pneumonia and other essentials like syringes, gloves and cannulas.
When the stories mentioned above were published, this newspaper wrote an editorial arguing that in most of these cases, the National Media Stores (NMS) has been blamed by health centres for the delays.
NMS has, however, often stated that they supply health units after receiving their orders. We posed the following questions: "So where is the problem? Do the health centres send their orders late? Does NMS have challenges that affect timely delivery of orders to health facilities? Are there gaps in personnel? Are medicines and other medical supplies being stolen from health facilities?"
We find it disappointing that to date, the same problem continues to crop up. Last Friday, Daily Monitor published a story highlighting yet another drug shortage - this time in Kalangala District. For the third time in less than a year, the district has experienced shortage of drugs. The only available drugs at most health centres in the district are ARVs. As a result, several patients are advised to buy drugs from private clinics.
The explanations for the drug shortage, as usual, involve back and forth blame game. According to an activist working with Advocacy for Better Health under Kalangala NGO Forum, NMS last disbursed drugs to Kalangala last November and the consignment didn't include some of the drugs which had been ordered for. However, NMS blames the drug shortage on district officials who budget for less drugs.
We restate the call we made about drug shortage last year and many times earlier: the Health ministry, administrators of health facilities and NMS should find a common ground to rid our health sector of the chronic problem of drug shortage.