Minister Kasaija Defies M7 On Hepatitis Funds
As Millions face Death
By John V Sserwaniko
Finance Minister Matia Kasaijja stands accused for refusing to ensure his ministry allocates Shs8bn badly required to save millions of people in 39 northern and eastern Uganda districts from succumbing to Hepatitis B.
Months ago during the campaign the President was bombarded by local leaders especially in Lango who accused him of being indifferent when their people, amongst whom Hepatitis B is widespread, are dying like insects.
On realizing this was politically sensitive and would cost him votes, Museveni called a crisis meeting with representations from Finance and Health Ministries. In that meeting, the MOH indicated the intervention required emergency procurement of Hepatitis B vaccines through the NMS.
The NMS bosses told the meeting they had no such money in their budget and with Museveni’s backing a request for supplementary funding was raised. Supplementary was required especially after Museveni campaigned in Teso sub region and was confronted with similar demands-leaders seeking his intervention because Hepatitis B was rampaging worse than even in Milton Obote’s Apac district and the rest of Lango.
Museveni ordered that the intervention (that was originally meant for a few West Nile, Lango, Acholi and Karamoja districts) be expanded to cover more areas bringing the total to 39 districts. Finance Ministry technocrats went to Parliament under Rebecca Kadaga and Shs11bn was passed as a supplementary to urgently procure the vaccines and honor Museveni’s pledge to vaccinate millions of northerners and easterners against Hepatitis B.
During a last week visit to NMS in Entebbe, where she was escorted by over 10 MPs led by Abdul Katuntu, Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga was shocked to learn that of the Shs11bn Parliament passed for Hepatitis B intervention, Finance had only released Shs3bn to NMS.
It was actually NMS General Manager Moses Kamabare who inadvertently brought this to Kadaga’s attention. He told Kadaga NMS operations were being constrained because of lack of support from Parliament when it comes to appropriating the badly needed funds for emergency medicines’ procurement.
He revealed that because of the decline in the shilling compared to the US dollar (which they use to import medicines), NMS last FY got a funding shortfall of Shs68bn which was lost due the shilling depreciating against the dollar. He said with that funding gap, NMS’ mother Ministry of Health had gone to Parliament seeking a supplementary to enable NMS pay arrears to its suppliers abroad.
“Rt. Hon Speaker we never got the money from Parliament,” Kamabare said. He also referred to the Shs11bn for Hepatitis B as pledged by the President to the 39 districts. A visibly angry Kadaga said “what?” She wondered how Finance Ministry never disclosed to NMS that the required supplementary had been passed.
“We are going to summon them to tell us because we passed everything,” Kadaga said directing COSACE’s Katuntu to immediately follow up.
“They can’t say there is no money because the request for supplementary is brought by them and by the time they do that they know the source where money is to be got from. It’s always there by the time you come for supplementary. They will have to tell us where they put the money,” Kadaga furiously said flanked by MPs Mathias Mpuuga, Katuntu, Nakasongola’s Margaret Komuhangi and others.
The NMS boss explained that the Hepatitis B vaccination started and millions of people already got their first two dozes and are only remaining with the last doze.
“This must be administered not later than next month [April] and if we miss doing that then the money so far spent on the earlier dozes will be wasted in vain. We shall in future have to re-do everything afresh which will cost the tax payers’ money,” Kamabare explained adding that 90% of the population in the 39 districts badly requires this vaccination.
By 1st April, vaccines must have reached the districts to avert the crisis, he added. Saying the Finance Ministry was letting them down, Kamabare told the initially fire-spitting MPs that: “we can’t begin accounting for what [supplementary budget: Shs68bn + Shs11bn] we didn’t receive.”
FDC’S OGWAL ATTACKS M7
Last week Museveni travelled to Dokolo district to preside over the women’s day celebrations. Area woman MP Cecilia Ogwal in her speech attacked Museveni for promising Langis air regarding the issue of Hepatitis B.
When he got to the microphone, Museveni unaware Finance Ministry has never released money to enable MOH/NMS fulfill his pledge, asked the crowd. The crowd unanimously told him that Cecilia Ogwal was telling the truth as the Hepatitis B vaccination, which he first promised in the 2016 campaigns, has never been fully delivered upon.
He wondered what happened and called upon Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng who explained MOH’s and NMS’s predicament regarding funding frustrations. He was furious how technocrats at Finance Ministry would betray him on such a politically very sensitive pledge.
He vowed to take up the matter with Matia Kasaijja who stands accused of defying the president’s directive in concert with technocrats at his Ministry. What makes it politically more complicated for Museveni is the fact that Dokolo wasn’t the first time he was publicly being attacked over the undelivered Hepatitis B pledge for the 39 districts.
Last month he travelled to Obote’s birth district of Apac for Tarehe Sita (Army) Day February 6th. In their speeches area local leaders still attacked him over this empty pledge he made many months ago while campaigning.
He was told the Hepatitis B vaccination program had stalled putting millions of lives at stake. He promised to follow up and find a quick solution but unfortunately he returned to the same region (Dokolo) over a month later without any solution.
In Dokolo Cecilia Ogwal, who sits on the budget committee that processes supplementary budget requests, insisted something was wrong at Finance Ministry “because Your Excellence as parliament we passed this supplementary for Hepatitis B long time ago.”
ABOUT HEPATITIS B:
Available information shows that in Uganda Hepatitis B kills more people than HIV Aids. Malaria is one of the few diseases that kill more people than Hepatitis B.
Besides escalating the condition for HIV positive patients by impairing their immunity system, Hepatitis B leads to liver cancer which these days has been rampaging and killing more people than before. It’s transmitted through sexual intercourse meaning people can innocently get it from their already infected spouses.
Having been briefed by Jane Aceng’s MOH technocrats, Museveni recently became alarmed and ordered UPDF to deploy men and women in the 39 districts to boost up efforts by health workers to fast track vaccination and reverse this worrying trend.
“The best we can do is vaccination and the younger ones are more susceptible to Hepatitis B because over time, the adults develop natural immunity to Hepatitis B which gradually kills many people through cancer of the liver. In fact it’s not only the 39 districts but the entire country is at risk because infected men and women always travel from the 39 districts and have sex activity in any other part of the country which is why we must vaccinate very fast to contain the problem. The problem is the UPDF contingent the President dispatched to back up health workers to massively vaccinate are stuck. They can’t do any work because Finance Ministry has refused to release the remaining Shs8bn to enable procurement of the Hepatitis B vaccines,” explained a local MP with a bit of medical background.