Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng left Members of Parliament in shock when she said she cannot tell the date when government procured vaccines will arrive.
Aceng and Permanent Secretary Diana Atwine had appeared before Parliaments COVID-19 taskforce which is scrutinizing interventions put in place to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic including vaccine procurement, payment of medical workers and health services challenges among others.
The MPs tasked Aceng to explain where all the funds amounting to over 121 billion Shillings meant for purchasing vaccines had gone since 2020, and the government’s plan for the vaccination of Ugandans. But in her explanation, the Minister said that the first 18 billion Shillings was released rather late from the Ministry of Finance after a delayed approval by Parliament. As a result, the government could not advance payments to the vaccine manufacturers.
She added that the funds together with an additional 23 billion Shillings are with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a key partner in sourcing the vaccines, while another 80 billion Shillings is with the National Medical Stores-NMS awaiting procurement of vaccines.
According to Aceng, the government is only able to comfortably get vaccines through the COVAX facility due to global demands. The plan indicates that Uganda will receive 1.2 million vaccines over the next month, while the bulk of 11 million vaccines from the COVAX facility and Johnson and Johnson have been concluded, but still await a response.
The task force insisted to know when the bulk of the vaccines will arrive leading to an exchange in which Aceng, who had initially said she doesn’t know, questioned if members wanted her to speak in her mother tongue for them to understand.
The chairperson of the taskforce Abdul Katuntu asked the Ministry of Health to cost everything needed to vaccinate all Ugandans so that the Parliament can make a decision on the matter, adding that the ultimate remedy to COVID-19 is vaccination.
Dickson Kateshumbwa, the Sheema Municipality MP said it is hopeless for a Minister to say she does not know when the vaccines will come, at a time when Ugandans are desperately waiting for the same.
There was further drama in the house when Soroti City MP Jonathan Ebwalu tasked Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary to account for 25 billion Shillings, part of the COVID-19 funds that he alleged had been swindled by the ministry.
Kasilo County MP Elijah Okupa however said that the money did not go to the Ministry of Health but instead the Office of the Prime Minister and Atwine should not be held responsible for this.