By Max Patrick Ocaido
KAMPALA. The move to merge newly autonomous Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) could turn as disastrous as the cancer disease itself.
Government on Tuesday announced that they have finalized the structural process of scrapping, downsizing and merging Agencies, Commissions and Authorities to minimize duplication and wastage of tax payer's money.
Among the agencies that have been affected include; Uganda Cancer Institute which will be merged with Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) and returned to Mulago Specialized Hospital as Directorates with enhanced staff salaries to retain them.
Read more: Full List of Merged Government Agencies
The move to merge UCI and UHI and put them under the management of Mulago could turn more disastrous and further frustrate the fight against cancer scourge in Uganda.
In May 2016, Parliament passed the Uganda Cancer Institute Bill, 2015 in a bid to establish Mulago-based UCI as an autonomous agency of government mandated to undertake and coordinate the prevention and treatment of cancer and cancer related diseases and to conduct research in cancer, in Uganda. Currently, UCI is responsible for the procurement of cancer drugs that were initially procured and supplied to the Institute by National Medical Stores (NMS).
Cancer is a growing health problem in Uganda registering over 5000 new patients at the facility which will soon or later be under new management-Mulago Specialized Hospital.
Up to FY 2017/18, UCI was receiving both its specialized and basic drugs and diagnostic supplies through NMS. Due to increasing number of new cancer patients every year, the budget for UCI increased from Shs500m from FY 2010/11 to Shs7bn in FY 2013/14. In 2013/14, UCI was receiving about 2500 new patients even with a stagnate budget and in 2017, the Institute received 5060 new patients, thus justifying need for autonomy status since most of their problems emanated from inconsistent drug procurement from NMS more so at an inflated cost.
According to the 2018 report on Procurement of Anticancer medicines, UCI has been facing challenges of inconsistent supplies, poor quality and astronomical pricing of anticancer drugs and continuous unconsumed budget balances before gaining status of autonomy. By passing the UCI 2016 Act, it was intended to solve the above challenges that the Institute has been facing which could go to waste once UCI is merged under Mulago.
According to Public Service ministry Permanent Secretary, Catherine Musingwiire, government agencies have been wasteful and less efficient despite taking Shs10.2trillion of the FY 2018/19 national budget. However, records show that ever since UCI 2016 Act came into existence last year, the Institute has been able to produce anticancer drugs at a market price and saved over Shs4.5bn compared to 'inflated' prices procured from NMS.
In some of the anticancer drug quotations, UCI buys drugs like Pegylated liposomal doxorubicin 20mg from NMS at Shs2,892,672 yet the same drug costs Shs221,507 at market price making unit over charge at Shs2,671,165.
For a long time, UCI has sought permission to procure its own medicines after it emerged that they have been receiving poor quality anticancer medicines where many brands supplied do not meet the pharmacopeia specifications that include drugs with low volumes below the manufacturer's specifications.
Fears continue to loom that if the autonomy for UCI to procure own cancer medicine is taken away through the new restructuring then the cancer patients are queuing for the worst.
According to UCI procurement plan for FY 2018/19, the Institute that was allocated Shs77bn intends to spend Shs3.1m on anticancer drugs, Shs1.5m on laboratory supplies, Shs965m on sundries, Shs648m on supportive therapies, Shs350m on radiology supplies and Shs109m on medical stationery.
The 2018 UCI Procurement report indicates that government saved Shs4,567,789,723 in less than one year than if supplies had come from NMS. The report shows that UCI saved Shs3.9m on anticancer drugs, Shs179m on laboratory supplies, Shs78m on medial stationery, Shs110m on radiology supplies, Shs47m on sundries and Shs241m on supportive drugs.