The arrest and detention of Mrs. Vivian Nakaliika Sserwanjja, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Ministry of Health of the Republic of Uganda has rattled us. Us, researchers, activists, journalists and other practitioners who engage in evidence based advocacy for appropriate healthcare services provision in Uganda for all Ugandans, particularly so for the ordinary citizens who are the majority.
Vivian was reportedly arrested on the evening of Wednesday, 6th February 2019 from her home and she remains in detention. Prior to her arrest, it is reported, her home was raided by officers of the Uganda Police Force, who have since issued a statement explaining why the raid. The Police allege that they received a tip that there were individuals “buying government drugs illegally” and that “some of the drugs they had bought were hidden at Solomon Sserwanjja’s home.”
The police further allege that the tip paid off and that at the home of the Sserwanjja’s “detectives found 14 boxes of Lumefantine tablets, vaccines for Hepatitis B and other drugs labelled with government of Uganda seals.”
Mr. Solomon Sserwanjja, a Senior Investigative Reporter, is Vivian’s husband and according to Next Media Services, Mr. Sserwanjja was among journalists who were working on an investigation “into the alleged sale of Uganda Government drugs on the black market”; an investigation that was jointly commissioned by NBS Television and BBC Africa
For many, Vivian is a loyal civil servant, who, as a PRO, is known as a defender of the Government of Uganda (GoU). Take for example, the spirited defence of the performance of the GoU’s provision of tuberculosis (TB) diagnostic services that she authored, titled: “TB machines are fully utilised” and that was published in New Vision in December 2017.
In that particular defence of the GoU, for example, Vivian was dismissive of alternative voices that surmised that TB diagnostic machines in Uganda were not fully utilised and she categorised such views as “misinformation.” This she did, moreover, in a context of there being empirical evidence that confirms that the few TB diagnostic machines in Uganda are not fully utilised nor are they sufficient.
The story of the Sserwanjjas in relation to the buying and selling of GoU drugs is still unfolding. There is certainly seems much more to it than meets the eye at the moment, so to speak. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that what the Sserwanjjas are going through right now is scary and is intimidating for civil servants, academics, researchers, whistle blowers, journalists, activists, those who go in search of the truth, in order to bring it to light and in order that a greater good can come out of it. We have essentially been warned, do so at your own peril.
The intimidating message seems to be that no one will be spared, not even loyal civil servants, such as Vivian. Logically, therefore, the message sent seems to be: steer clear of going undercover in order to unmask the truth as it relates to public healthcare services provision by the GoU, unless, seemingly, you are Hon. Sarah Achieng Opendi, State Minister of Health.
We end with a plea to all to advocate that the findings of the investigation be released. And if the allegations are proven that there is a booming business on the black market of buying and selling GoU acquired drugs that are intended for free access to Ugandans, do not rest until the culprits are brought to book; their business is shut down; and the integrity of the GoU drug supply chain restored for the benefit of all Ugandans.