Many patients are getting incorrect test results from laboratories across the country, health officials have warned.
According to ministry of Health experts handling the situation, incorrect or falsified results are given to unsuspecting clientsatients by inexperienced or fake lab technicians and other health workers bent on making an extra buck at all costs. What is more alarming is that such results are also given out in respected health facilities such as Mulago national referral hospital.
Two months ago, a lab technician at Mulago hospital was arrested for reportedly issuing incorrect Hepatitis B positive results. The technician, whose particulars the ministry of Health is reluctant to reveal, had conned more than 25 people. Each paid between Shs 300,000 and Shs 500,000 for the results.
He allegedly forged forms from Ebenezer clinic in Kampala on which he wrote the results.
“Because many of our medical workers are now business-minded, they want to make quick money which is why they issue false results,” Expeditus Ahimbisibwe, a ministry of Health official, said on Friday during the launch of a report on corruption in the health sector.
The report, titled ‘Towards a transparent and accountable health sector’, was compiled by the Anti-Corruption Coalition, Uganda (ACCU) using data from selected health facilities in Karamoja, West Nile, Teso, Acholi, Busoga, Bunyoro and Kigezi sub-regions.
“Even if you are suffering from malaria, they will give you results indicating that you have brucellosis because its treatment is more expensive than that of Malaria,” Ahimbisibwe said.
Dr Asuman Lukwago, the ministry of Health permanent secretary, told The Observer on Monday that the problem went beyond Kampala.
“I think it is more than medical workers wanting money but the medical profession, like any other profession, is invaded by conmen,” Lukwago said. “It is something that has to do with the technical competences of the people running the laboratories. The few that we have caught were found with forged [academic] papers.”
Lukwago said the ministry was in the process of introducing a new law, the Uganda National Health Laboratory Services Bill, to regulate laboratories. The proposed legislation is now before the first parliamentary counsel for drafting.
“The existing law [Public Health Act] under which we have been charging culprits is too lenient in fact most of the people we have arrested were freed by the police because they cannot be effectively charged under the law,” Lukwago said.
The new law suggests a punishment of jail and deregistration of errant medical practitioners. The ministry is also working on the Indigenous and Complementary Medicines Bill, specifically designed for herbalists who wrongfully engage in laboratory services.
“Because they [herbalists] are registered as businesses, the ministry, as of now, cannot do much to stop them but they are wrongfully practising laboratory services,” Lukwago said.
The ACCU report found that corruption was still entrenched in the health sector, with cases of illegal user fees and drug thefts. Some of the documented cases are in Iganga hospital where patients pay at least Shs 50,000 for blood transfusion, Shs 15,000 for a scan and an x-ray examination.
The charges are less by Shs 5,000 at Soroti regional referral hospital, where patients pay Shs 2,000 for gloves and Shs 5,000 for laboratory services. To use the hospital’s ambulance, the report says, patients pay between Shs 50,000 and Shs 100,000 depending on the distance.
The report also accuses the ministry of delivering irrelevant drugs to health centres. The National Medical Stores (NMS), for instance, delivered empty and half-full boxes at Lolachat health centre III in Nakapiripirit district. Moses Taremwa of the Medicines Monitoring Unit said most of the drugs that were dispatched to rural health centres were smuggled into countries such as Kenya, DR Congo and South Sudan.
The main exit points for the drugs are Lwakhakha (Mbale), Nyahuka (Bundibugyo) and several border points in West Nile.
“We have so far arrested about seven people and recovered two tonnes of the drugs that were mainly being smuggled into DRC,” Taremwa said.
Source : The Observer