Health care services in Uganda are about to face an uphill battled following the announcement by the Ministry of Finance to cut the budget for National Medical Stores (NMS) by nearly US$267 million.
NMS is a government-owned company that sources and distributes medicines to public clinics and hospitals in Uganda.
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The Daily Monitor reports that the decision, which has been decried by the ministry of health, will “cripple” the country’s health care and health systems.
Minister of health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng told the Daily Monitor: “The implication is that we shall not be able to provide the needed services if the funds are not provided. [The] government needs to look for money to ensure that these items [essential medicines] are catered for.”
Uganda currently provides universal access to health care — but this progress is threatened now by the budget cut, which was announced last week.
The Ministry of Health had requested $133 million for the 2019/2020 financial year, only for the Ministry of Finance to provide just $105 million.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, Jim Mugunga, said that essential medicines will still be available.
“The budget prioritises essentials like medicines and the health sector will certainly be given priority,” he told the Daily Monitor. “However, it's not uncommon for sectors to lobby parliament to gain more than what was allocated through a consultative process.”
Even so, reduced financing for health care is bound to have negative effects. Last year, doctors said the shortage of donor blood had reached “crisis” level and that it would cost $1.8 million to resolve.
Meanwhile, Uganda used to have what was considered one of the better health care systems in Africa between the 1980s and 1990s, when HIV infections were reduced from 30% of the population in the 1980s and 1990s to 6.5%, and the maternal mortality rate from 561 deaths per 100,000 to 343.
However, recent challenges have put the country back to one of the worst ranking when it comes to access to quality health care, with the World Health Organisation now ranking Uganda 186 out of 191 countries.
The lack of medicine at state hospitals is among the reasons the country scores poorly, along with lack of medical staff.
Dr Aceng told the Daily Monitor that sufficient budget allocation is vital to rewriting this narrative.
She said: “My duty is to inform parliament, the budget committee, and other government departments that more funds should be allocated to cater for these priorities.