Parliament’s committee on health has started investigating the legal existence and operations of private pharmacies inside National Referral Hospital.
In a report by a local newspaper, the entities under contention are, First Pharmacy and Ecopharm pharmacy, which were established in 2019.
The committee vice-chairperson, Joel Ssebikaali, while meeting Dr. Byarugaba Baterana, the Executive Director of Mulago Hospital, he sought clarifications on the ownership of these private pharmacies and how they were established in Mulago Hospital.
There have been pre-existing concerns that private pharmacies connive with public health facilities to sell government drugs to patients.
“As a committee, we need to know these private pharmacies accessed Mulago. Who owns them? How much money do they remit to Government and for how long will they stay there? Are these two privately owned pharmacies selling ‘specialized’ drugs to patients in Mulago Hospital?” Ssebikaali asked.
He further demanded that Mulago’s leadership avail the committee with vital documents, including memoranda of understanding that Mulago signed with First Pharmacy and Ecopharm.
When asked about the owners of the private pharmacies and how they set up business at the government hospitals.
Baterana said; ” I don’t know the owners, but they operate under the names First Pharmacy and Ecopharm.”
Baterana maintains that 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 specialized drugs which cannot be obtained from the National Medical Stores (NMS), a government institution mandated to procure, store and distribute medicines.
“The opening of First Pharmacy and Ecopharm inside the hospital premises was part of the public-private partnerships aimed at bringing drugs closer to patients to save them the hurdle of going to distant pharmacies in search of drugs that are not available at the hospital.” Baterana told the MPs.
“There is a shortage of specialized drugs and that is why we sought the services of these private pharmacies. There are also some patients who come looking for particular brands of drugs, which can only be provided by pharmacies,” he added.
He further noted that both private pharmacies remit Sh3m each to Mulago hospital in rent.
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 additional funding of Shs153.27 billion in the financial year 2022/23 against the Finance Ministry Budget projections of Shs69.275 billion.