Ministry of Health, take WHO's advice seriously

10 Jun 2009
The Ministry of Health is locked up in a tricky situation over the supply of the much needed Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACT), anti-malarial drugs. If this impasse is not sorted out as soon as possible, Uganda may back-track on its efforts to fight one of the worst killer diseases. Problem is that the Ministry of Health is convinced that the supplier, Ajanta Pharma, who was selected to supply these anti-malarial drugs, can deliver. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) doubts Ajanta's capacity and its past record in Kenya where it was contracted to do the same job is not favourable at all.

According to WHO, Ajanta not only failed to deliver the capacity that was required in Kenya of 12 million doses but the company failed to comply with specified standards related to good manufacturing practices. Ajanta is also accused of not following its quality systems to prevent possible cross-contamination. Yet the Ministry of Health in Uganda insists that Ajanta answered questions that were raised by WHO in Kenya.

It is particularly intriguing that Ugandan health officials have taken a casual approach to the rather serious matter, with one arguing that if Ajanta fails to deliver in the first phase, then the contract would be cancelled and awarded to another bidder. While we are not in position to pass judgment on the capabilities of Ajanta, we believe the Ministry of Health should not take the WHO's concerns lightly. More so because Uganda has been a victim of fraudulent purchases and bogus tenders before!

National Medical Stores, the government agency charged with the acquisition of drugs for the country, has previously suffered the indignity of destroying expired drugs after so much money was sunk in. Ironically, this happens even when many health centres, especially upcountry, have no adequate drugs. Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the anti-malaria drugs coming to Uganda are of the best possible quality, the right quantities, at the right time, purchased at the right price. To succeed against malaria, we need no less.