Officials in Uganda’s National Medical Stores are in a panic after security organizations started investigating the disappearance of HIV testing kits.
Officials in Uganda’s National Medical Stores (NMS) are in a panic after security organizations started investigating the disappearance of HIV testing kits.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that NMS – which stores and distributes drugs to public health facilities – packed the kits, but the courier delivered empty boxes to the districts.
“The boxes left NMS with the testing kits, but we were shocked when we learnt that the courier only delivered empty boxes for Kasese and Kyenjojo district stores,” he said.
He declined to name the courier organization that delivered the boxes.
Increased scarcity of HIV testing kits
The source was speaking on 19 September 2013 during an Advocacy for Universal Access to Essential Medicine workshop organized by the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS- Uganda). The workshop brought together health activists with an aim to advocate for quality, appropriate, affordable medicines in health facilities.
A recent survey conducted in 24 districts revealed that there has been a scarcity of HIV test kits in both private and public health facilities for the last three months. The survey indicates that stock-outs of HIV test kits have been severe in Bundibugyo, Kalangala, Mityana, Kasese, Kamwenge and Iganga, among other districts.
“Perhaps this theft explains why HIV testing kits have been scarce in most government health facilities,” our source said.
The Kyenjojo district police commander Samuel Abedi confirmed an investigation is underway. He said: “Yes we are investigating the matter and we have sent our detectives to ask the officials involved to tell us exactly what happened.”
Security gets deeper to investigate
He said the case has been handed over to the police and a number of officials at NMS have been interrogated, adding that the kits are worth millions of Ugandan shillings.
“After investigations, we will arrest the perpetrators because this is a serious matter that we cannot take lightly,” the source added.
Isaac Mutabazi, the chief pharmacist at the AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), said that a pack of 100 HIV testing kits ranges from Ushs 100,000 to Ushs 150,000, depending on the manufacturer.
Lack of verification
Rosette Mutambi, executive director of HEPS-Uganda, wondered why the district officials accepted and signed the NMS delivery forms when the boxes were empty.
“This is a weakness in the system because I don’t understand how the district officials just put their signatures without verifying the content in the boxes. It is now very difficult to know where the problem is,” Mutambi said.
She said that NMS should also stop the habit of delivering drugs at night and on public holidays as one way to stop this kind of occurrence.
“You may find that the kits were stolen from the NMS before the truck taking off, or the boxes were broken into or even stolen from the district stores,” she added.
People living with HIV speak out
The national coordinator of the Positive Men’s Union, Richard Serunkuma, calls it a disaster. Serunkuma, who has lived with HIV for the past 26 years, said missing kits will severely affect the voluntary counselling and testing program.
“This is going to increase HIV infections because people will not know their HIV status. Even those who are willing to test will not do so. There is no way I can come to the health facility more than twice and the kits are not there and I am expected to come back,” he said.
Serunkuma said that it will affect the prevention of mother-to-child transmission because many pregnant women will miss testing for HIV while attending antenatal appointments, resulting in more infections in babies.
Health officer expresses shock
Dr Steven Kanyegira, the Kyenjojo district health officer, said he does not know what exactly happened.
“The boxes here were never delivered, despite the fact that the delivery note indicated that they were loaded on the truck,” he said.
NMS spokesperson Dan Kimosho confirmed that boxes were not delivered in Kyenjojo while Kasese received empty boxes.
Kimosho added: “We loaded the kits and handed them over to the district authorities. We suspect that they have gone missing from the district stores but not NMS.”