22 May 2018

Uganda: Government to Give Drugs to Only Patients With National IDs

Photo: Daily Monitor
A nurse administers medication to a baby at Moroto Hospital (file photo).

Kampala — The government is in advanced stages of preparations to enforce a proposal for only National Identity Cards (IDs) holders to enjoy healthcare services at public health facilities, this newspaper can reveal.

Health minister Jane Aceng on Monday confirmed that they are setting up a digital system with in-built mechanism to, among other things, enable pharmacies not to dispense drugs to patients without IDs.

"We are already working on that software. We are still working as well as mobilising resources for it as we need it rolled out to the entire country," Dr Aceng said in an interview.

Officials hope the plan will help create an easy-to-retrieve patients' records, establish actual numbers and provide a mechanism of tracing, accountability and follow up on use of medicines supplied to public facilities.

The government plan yesterday drew mixed reactions from health rights activists, medical professionals and ordinary citizens.

Whereas Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the president of Uganda Medical Association, welcomed the idea, some Ugandans this newspaper interviewed echoed disapproval and likened it to a mass death sentence.

Mr Onyul Larry, a teacher, said he lost his ID last year and repeated trips to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) to have it replaced have failed.

"This means if I ever fell sick before I got back [my ID], I would surely have to rot. The government needs to look into this matter first," he said.

ID numbers

About 19 million out of the estimated 38 million Ugandans have registered for IDs, although 14 million have picked the printed documents, according to NIRA spokesman Gilbert Kadilo.

The national IDs are increasingly being required during school enrolment, registration of mobile phone SIM cards and, in some cases, by financial institutions.

Mr Moses Talibita, a legal officer at the Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation, demanded for enactment of a law to guide technology use in healthcare delivery to prevent abuse of patients' rights.

"The Patients' Rights and Responsibilities Bill, 2017, [should be passed into law because it seeks] to operationalise introduction of medical technologies that promote medically comfortable principles of medical records," he said.

The draft law initiated by Busiki County MP Paul Akamba aims to specify rights and responsibilities of patients, streamline health workers-patients relations and improve care quality. A similar Bill tabled in the 9th Parliament collapsed after Kigulu South MP Milton Muwuma, the mover, failed to obtain a certificate of financial implication to show the likely cost of implementation.

In welcoming the proposal, Dr Obuku yesterday said creating a digital health system should inform establishment of a national health insurance scheme and help in "tracking patients and for accountability in terms of supply of medicines by the National Medical Stores".

He added: "There is a need to develop stringent rules on protection of patients' data because what we have are ethical guidelines, which might not be majorly applicable."

Ms Brenda Nerima, a banker, said the government needs to incentivise citizens with guaranteed free health care if its proposal is to work.

Health minister Aceng's confirmation of the new arrangement was in response to this newspaper's inquiry about a suggestion by Ms Joanita Namutebi, an expert on controlled substances working with Joint Medical Stores, that drugs at public health facilities should be dispensed to ID holders to avoid misuse, theft and wastage.

OTHER ISSUES

Drug abuse. Speaking on the sidelines of last week's patient rights conference in Kampala organised by JMS and Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network, Ms Namutebi said a centralised drug administration system that uses national identity data to track and trace use of medicines could help curb drug abuse.

Investigation. According to National Drug Authority Executive Secretary Donna Kusemererwa, they are investigating reports of widespread misuse of cough syrups, which contains the addictive codeine opiate, by mainly university students in Kampala suburbs of Kabalagala and Kansanga.

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