Ugandan lawmakers launch probe into the existence of private pharmacies in Mulago Hospital

UGANDA – The Parliamentary Committee on Health is interested in investigating the existence and operation of private pharmacies within Mulago National Referral Hospital.

First Pharmacy and Ecopharm are two privately owned pharmacies that sell ‘specialized’ drugs to Mulago Hospital patients.

During a meeting with Dr. Byarugaba Baterana, Executive Director of Mulago National Referral Hospital, on Friday, 14 January 2022, the Committee Vice Chairperson, Hon. Joel Yoweri Ssebikali, sought clarification on the ownership of these private pharmacies and how they accessed Mulago Hospital.

Concerns have been raised that private pharmacies collude with public health facilities to sell government drugs to patients.

“As a committee, we need to know how these private pharmacies accessed Mulago. Who owns them? How much money do they remit to Government and for how long will they stay there?” Ssekikali asked.

He demanded that Mulago’s leadership provide the Committee with critical documents, such as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) signed by Mulago with First Pharmacy and Ecopharm.

Dr. Baterana stated that the two private pharmacies are legally operating within Mulago after a competitive procurement process, and that an MOU has been signed with Mulago to supply specialized drugs that cannot be obtained from National Medical Stores (NMS), a government institution tasked with procuring, storing, and distributing medications.

There is a shortage of specialized drugs and that is why we sought the services of these private pharmacies to supply these drugs. There are also some patients who come looking for particular brands of drugs which can only be provided by the private pharmacy,” Dr. Baterana said adding that, ‘both private pharmacies pay Shs3 million (US$ 846.13) each to Mulago Hospital as rent.

Hon. Samuel Opio (Kole County North) questioned how a patient could dictate the brand of drug without a physician’s prescription.

Is it the patient who prescribes himself or herself or is it supposed to be the medical practitioner? This explains why people complain that there are no basic drugs in public hospitals,” he said.

In 2019, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the National Drug Authority (NDA) to cancel licenses of the two private pharmacies operating in Mulago. However, the directive, according to Dr. Baterana, was temporarily stayed following legal advice from the Attorney General.

The Health Committee also charged the government with streamlining regional referral hospitals in order to relieve the patient burden on Mulago.

Mulago should stick to its niche by treating patients who cannot be served by other referrals, according to the Committee.

For as long as regional hospitals are not fully functional and streamlined, then Mulago will remain a nightmare. We need to help Mulago by strengthening regional hospitals,” Hon. Sylvia Bahireira Tumwekwase, said.

Mulago Hospital is requesting an additional Shs153.27 billion (US$ 43.2 million) in funding for fiscal year 2022/23, compared to the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) Budget projections of Shs69.275 billion (US$19.5 million).

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