Uganda: Covid-19 - Govt to Study Expenses in Private Hospitals

The Ministry of Health yesterday appointed a team to study the expenditure of private health facilities, which are treating Covid-19 patients, in a bid to solve the issue of the exorbitant charges.

The team was appointed yesterday during a closed door meeting with the leadership of the private hospitals and is expected to report to the ministry today with recommendations on which costs government can take over.

During the meeting, a team from the private health facilities presented a list of their expenditure.

Though Ministry of Health has not publicly disclosed the composition of the team, sources say it comprises both ministry officials and private sector players.

A source, who attended the meeting but preferred anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media, said the ministry is ready to take up some of the costs provided it will translate into reduction of charges by the private facilities.

The source said key on the list is the cost of oxygen administration, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other equipment needed for emergency services.

The team is supposed to come up with a report today so that government comes out with a clear position on which expenses it will take over before the end of the week.

This comes after the public raised concern over the exorbitant charges demanded by the private health facilities to treat Covid-19 patients.

According to figures seen by this publication, private health facilities have been charging between Shs2m and Shs10m daily for ICU admissions.

They also demand upfront payment before admitting a patient.

Dr Denis Kimalyo, the executive director of the Uganda National Association of Private Hospitals, who has been key in the discussions, failed to respond to our inquiries on the high costs.

He told this publication that he was busy attending a World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting and that he would respond to our inquiries later. However, by press time, he had not responded to our repeated calls.

We were also unable to reach Ms Grace Kiwanuka, the executive director of Uganda Healthcare Federation, who is a member of the committee, as she did not respond to our repeated calls and text messages.

In an interview with Daily Monitor on Sunday, Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, admitted that government was engaging the private health facilities to find a way to reduce the costs.

"This discussion is still ongoing, we think there is a window that these people can cut their costs to a reasonable rate. I know Covid-19 is a very expensive disease to treat because those PPEs and the other things they use are very expensive," Dr Atwine said.

She, however, said while they were engaging the proprietors of the private health facilities, there is no legal framework which they can use to compel the private facilities to reduce the charges.

"We do not have the law to push by force even if we told them. I think the best is for people not to go there, unfortunately, people are desperate and sometimes they have nowhere to go, but there," she said.

Court case

As the private hospitals make a killing from the Covid-19 pandemic, a health advocacy organisation, Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and its executive director, Mr Moses Mulumba, at the weekend dragged the government to court over the exorbitant prices charged.

The petitioner said government failed to regulate the high medical bills being charged by private health facilities for Covid-19 treatment.

In his affidavit to support the petition, Mr Mulumba said the rates charged by the hospitals are clearly exorbitant in nature.

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