AMURU —Residents in Amuru District are taking the matter into their own hands—demanding accountability and effective service delivery from duty bearers.
In June last year, members of the village health team in Layima Sub-county, one of the 13 Sub-counties of the Northern Uganda district arrested their health facility in-charge over alleged theft of government drugs.
Martin Ayella, the former in-charge of Omee Health Centre II was arrested by vigilant residents shortly after selling off an assortment of drugs and medical supplies, some meant for Malaria treatment and other preventable diseases.
Alfred Odoch, a member of a grassroot structure dubbed accountability champions created by ActionAid International Uganda (AAIU) says Mr. Ayella was apprehended by a Village Health Team after he had sold government medical supplies to Bernard Okot, a resident of Kati Kati B Village in Palwong Parish in Pabbo Sub County who was also apprehend by the same.
The accountability champions who volunteer to monitor transparency and accountability violations alongside there daily routines told this website that Okot had been frequenting Omee Health Centre II before leaving with unspecified items wrapped in a sack or sometimes a box, on top of frequent stock outs, a development that attracted their attention.
In at Layima Sub-county one of areas where such structures are situated, residents suspected foul play between the two, which prompted them to waylay and apprehend Okot while leaving the health facility on a motorcycle with some items wrapped in a box.
According to Odoch, on searching the box, the residents found an assortment of government drugs and other medical supplies.
They included 50 boxes of the malaria Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) strips, 20 boxes of injectaplan pills for family planning, seven packets of coartem drugs, six boxes of reusable medical face masks and dozens of syringes.
Okot, whose profession is unknown confessed to having bought the drugs and medical supplies from Ayella.
This prompted Ayella’s arrest who equally confessed to have sold the government supplies to Okot, saying this was the second time he was doing it in the same year.
Residents have since pushed and demanded that the law holds the culprits accountable for playing with people’s health, but to their frustration, both Ayella and Okot would later be released on police bond.
Residents claim sabotage by political leaders. One of the residents who saught anonymity claimed Ayella is a brother to a former Resident District Commissioner (RDC) whose influence has remained prominent in the district leadership.
Mr. Cosmos Acellam Apuke, the Layima Sub-county Chairperson said told PML Daily by phone that the in-charge had for long been under surveillance for theft of drugs and engaging in fraudulent acts.
Apuke however, said the case was taken over by unidentified people from Kampala and that upto now, “we don’t know what’s happening”.
“I don’t know how far they have gone with the case , he was arrested, released and now he is outside on Police bond,” Mr. Apuke told PML Daily.
Asked on the alleged absenteeism of new in charge, Apuke said his accommodation is there but he refused to use it.
“For the incharge’s accomodation is there but we don’t know what’s wrong with him , he is now away on two- month leave but we are waiting for him to return and we engage him. If he is not ready to work at Omee [health center] he should tell us early enough so that we can also get another person who can deliver, ” he said.
Statics from the OPD book at the health facility show most of the patients are being diagnosed for Malaria, one of the leading causes of death in Uganda.
Malaria accounts for 34% of outpatient visits and 28% of hospital admissions according to 2015 data from Uganda’s Health Management Information System.
Health facilities in Uganda reported more than 13 million cases of malaria in 2020 , according to the World Health Organization.
Uganda spends over $100 million a year on malaria-related issues and an additional $40 million a year on anti-malaria supplies, including drugs to treat the illness, Jimmy Opigo, manager for the Ugandan government’s malaria control program was quoted in the media as saying recently.
But those drugs often do not make it into the hands of intended recipients like at Omee Health Care II.
Rather, the drugs are stolen in the night and carried out on cars and buses to Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi, says Bitekyerezo K. Medard, chairman of the National Drug Authority (NDA), a government body that regulates the import, export and manufacture of drugs.
And many of the drugs left in-country are counterfeit, missing active ingredients or laced with so little that they don’t kick the malaria once the patient takes them.
“Malaria affects and kills many people in Uganda,” Bitekyerezo says. “So that makes the anti-malarial more in demand than any other drugs.”
The ready market for the drugs is a major incentive for theft, says Opigo.
Bitekyerezo says theft of government drugs intended for the public is common practice in government health facilities. Malaria drugs are among the most frequently stolen.
“The stealing is castigated by private pharmacists who buy and sell these drugs,” he says. “We believe they work with mafias, some of whom are high placed government officials.”
Anti-malarial drugs like Coartem are supposed to be free at all government hospitals, but when the drugs are not there, patients are forced to go seek treatment elsewhere. Some Ugandans purchase them from private pharmacies for between UGX 7,000 and UGX 8,000 Ugandan shillings a dosage.
Those unable to afford the steep fee turn to traditional healers and herbalists.