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UGANDA: Health ministry diverts ARV money

Photo: Georgina Cranston/IRIN
Uganda is experiencing a nationwide shortage of ARVs
KAMPALA, 10 August 2009 (PlusNews) - HIV activists are demanding that Uganda's Ministry of Health refund an estimated US$15 million earmarked for purchasing antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, which was instead used to buy shares in a local drug factory and pay health workers.

"For the ministry to divert funds from buying drugs that save lives ... is completely unacceptable," said Stella Kentutsi of Uganda's National Forum of People Living with AIDS Network.

The diversion of funds comes at a time when the country is experiencing nationwide ARV shortages. Many health centres are unable to enrol new patients and others are only enrolling those with a CD4 count (a measure of immune system strength) of 150 or less. Most low-income countries start treatment at a CD4 count of 200, while others recently raised the threshold to 350.

In its 2008/09 national budget, the government set aside $38 million to buy ARVs from local manufacturer Quality Chemicals Limited - the first ever domestic contribution to the country's donor-driven ARV programme. However, less than half the allocated funds were actually used to purchase ARVs.

The controversy comes two months after parliament's budget committee recommended slashing the allocation for ARVs to $20 million in the 2009/10 national budget, on the grounds that money allocated in the previous budget had not been spent on buying the drugs.

"I would request that the ministry refund that money to buy drugs for our people," said Beatrice Rwakimari, chair of the parliamentary committee on HIV and related matters. "If this money is not committed to buying drugs then ... we shall have shortages."

Health Minister Stephen Mallinga told IRIN/PlusNews that the funds were diverted to pay healthcare workers who had not received salaries; he added that the Ministry of Finance had authorised the diversion of funds and would refund the money.

An estimated 170,000 people are enrolled in Uganda's ARV programme, which is about 95 percent donor-funded, while another 130,000 need the drugs but are not getting them.


Theme(s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Governance, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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