Persistent drug stockouts and unexplained expiries of medicines have nudged the Parliamentary Committee on Health to suggest that government should break the monopoly of National Medical Stores (NMS) and get other players to procure and distribute drugs across the country.
The MPs, in stepping up calls for inclusion of other industry players, argue that NMS has failed to deliver drugs and other medical consumables in time to government facilities. This, they say, results in unwanted expiration and damaging stockouts of drugs.
Speaking at a recent parliamentary Health committee retreat in Entebbe, MPs also agreed to summon officials from the ministry of Health, NMS and district health officers to explain the conflicting statements about drug stock outs and expiries.
The Woman MP for Isingiro, Justine Ayebazibwe, said late responses to drug shortages in health centres arise because NMS is a monopoly and the only agent that supplies drugs across the country.
"We need to bring in other players on board; for instance, Joint Medical Stores [JMS] can be contacted to do part of the work. NMS is inefficient. Our people are dying yet government is paying a lot of money to get those drugs," she said.
Joy Atim, the Woman MP for Lira district, said it is high time the NMS monopoly is broken through setting up small medical stores at districts so that district health officers (DHOs) can easily access them.
"We have agreed to summon DHOs, ministry of Health officials and the NMS team. We have to find ways of solving this problem once and for all," she said.
Judith Alyek, the chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on HIV/ Aids, wondered why NMS stores in Entebbe can be fully stocked, as MPs found out on a recent visit, yet health centres in rural areas complain of lack of drugs.
"You can't imagine in northern Uganda some health centres don't have ARVs for children [and] adults on ARVs are breaking tablets into two to give children... ," added Alyek, who is Kole Woman MP.
DELIVERY OF DRUGS
Civil society organizations (CSOs) under their umbrella body, the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), said NMS is too inefficient to distribute and deliver drugs to health centres.
In their submission, the CSOs noted that a number of regional referral hospitals like Kabale, Lira, Mbarara, Jinja and Naguru hospital placed orders for delivery of drugs, which NMS has failed to deliver.
Simon Mugenyi, the advocacy and communications manager of Reproductive Health Uganda, said the country is losing a lot of money just because NMS doesn't want to deliver drugs and in the process, the drugs expire.
"To ensure efficient and timely delivery of drugs, we welcome the idea of the committee resolving to call for a meeting between regional referral hospitals and NMS, to iron out issues of drug deliveries," he said.
Interviewed for a comment on Monday, the NMS public relations officer, Dan Kimosho, said drug procurement and distribution is more efficiently during the current leadership of NMS than any other.
"Drug distribution efficiency is now at 78 per cent; this is far better compared to the time we took over in 2008 where efficiency was at 22 per cent. It is out of this efficiency that we even supply the armed forces," he said.
The chairman of parliament's Health committee, Michael Bukenya, said most hospitals don't place orders on time thus the late or no delivery of drugs to such facilities.
Bukenya also noted that the NMS budget should be increased, a view that Beatrice Rwakimari, the Ntungamo Woman MP, shares.
"These people [NMS] need their budget increased. We should not blame them entirely," she said. "I was once a board member there; I can tell you that their budget of Shs 217 billion is so small compared to what they do."