I am inclined to agree with Dr. Stavia Turyamuhabwa, Programme Manager of Uganda’s Tuberculosis (TB) and Leprosy Control Programme that “there is no one being treated for TB when they do not have it.” Dr. Turyamuhabwa was responding to findings of a Global Fund audit which uncovered missing TB medicines and which raised suspicion that Ugandans were being treated for TB yet they are not infected with TB.
I am more inclined to believe the alternative explanation that “some of the TB drugs may simply have been stolen.” Knowing how devastating taking TB drugs can be, it is highly doubtful that medical personnel can be so careless as to put a person on TB treatment drugs who they do not highly suspect infected with TB.
Sadly, it is feasible, however, that medical personnel may put patients on TB treatment drugs purely on the basis of their suspicion and not on the basis of confirmed diagnosis. After all, Uganda has insufficient TB diagnostic capacity. Sometimes, of course, sadly, the suspicions of medical personnel may be proved wrong.
Ironically, moreover, the reality at the grassroots is that the “supply of TB drugs is inadequate. Sometimes the patient comes in, doesn’t find the drugs at the hospital then there is even no need for the patient to stay there without the drugs,” for example, explained a respondent in a qualitative investigation into TB in Uganda that was conducted by CPAR Uganda.
How is it then that the Global Fund audit found that the “volume of TB medicine used does not match the number of patients recorded” and that the “volume is much higher than the patients recorded?”
Yes, the more plausible explanation, like other drugs procured – received as donations or bought – by the government, TB drugs are likely being stolen and sold off to other countries neighbouring Uganda, such as South Sudan, whose healthcare services are not fully functional.
By the way, what happened to that story which the BBC and NTV were investigating about the theft and sale of government drugs? Is the case of the arrest of the journalists who were investigating the story going forward or did it just disappear? And did either BBC or NTV ever air the story?
Why is it that we in Uganda often fixate on stories happening elsewhere in the world and quickly lose interest or show no interests in that which is happening here at home and which has significant negative impact on our wellbeing?
On the same day that the New Vision reported the story of missing TB drugs as its front page headline: “GLOBAL FUND AUDIT EXPOSES MISSING TB DRUGS”, its front page sub-headline was: “HUNT FOR MISSING TOURIST INTENSIFIES.” And boy did Ugandans fixate on the sub-headline story. Nothing much was said about the headline story.
Indeed, Alaa Salah’s poetry holds true: “The bullet doesn’t kill. What kills is the silence of people.”