The Parliamentary Committee on Health has picked interest in probing the existence and operations of private pharmacies inside Mulago National Referral Hospital.
First Pharmacy and Ecopharm are the two privately owned pharmacies selling ‘specialised’ drugs to patients in Mulago Hospital.
While meeting Dr. Byarugaba Baterana, the Executive Director, Mulago National Referral Hospital over the Budget Framework Paper for financial year 2022/23 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.
There have been general concerns that private pharmacies connive 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 leadership avail the Committee with vital documents including Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) that Mulago signed with First Pharmacy and Ecopharm.
Dr. Baterana said that the two private pharmacies are legally operating inside Mulago after undergoing a competitive procurement process and that there is an MOU signed with Mulago to supply specialised drugs which cannot be obtained from National Medical Stores (NMS), a government institution mandated to procure, store and distribute medicines.
“There is a shortage of specialised 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 each to Mulago Hospital as rent’.
Hon. Samuel Opio (Kole County North) questioned how a patient would dictate the brand of drug without proper prescription from the physician.
“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 licences 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 further tasked Government to streamline regional referral hospitals in order to relieve Mulago of the patient burden. The Committee wants Mulago to stick to its niche by treating patients who cannot be handled by other referrals.
“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 (Indep,. Kamwenge District) said.
Mulago Hospital is seeking an additional funding of Shs153.27 billion in financial year 2022/23 against the MTEF Budget projections of Shs69.275 billion.