MoH Responds to MP Nsereko’s Allegations that the Ministry is Profiteering from Covid Tests

MoH Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine (L) and Kampala Central MP, Muhammad Nsereko (R).

The Ministry of Health has refuted allegations made by Kampala Central MP, Muhammad Nsereko claiming that the Ministry is profiteering from conducting tests for Coronavirus.

Nsereko recently alleged that the Ministry of Health is using Rapid Diagnostic Kits (RDTs) purchased at a cost of $65 hence causing financial loss of billions of shillings as opposed to the exact price of USD 3.3$ on open market. 

He further said that the Ministry tests 3,000 truck drivers daily on entry and exit from the country making a financial gain of USD 195,000 (Shs 721M) per day. And that because of this cost inflation, the Ministry is minting USD 19M per 100 days. 

In its response, however, the Ministry describes the allegations by the legislator as malicious and uninformed.

“It is unfortunate for the legislator to mislead the population that tests are carried out haphazardly for merely monetary gains. Without testing drivers coming in the country, the epidemic would have taken a different turn altogether for our country by now. The Ministry of Health wishes to state that the allegation of minting USD 19M is false, baseless and if not malicious is uninformed,” a statement issued Friday by MoH Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine stated.

Dr Atwine said truck drivers are tested on arrival to Uganda from neighboring countries and that all truck drivers employed in Uganda are tested in country as per the protocol and agreement made by the East African member states.

On the contrary, MoH says it is investing heavily to test all people for COVID-19 free of charge, “a gesture that would be appreciated and not distorted”.

Regarding the cost of testing kits which Nsereko claims was inflated, the Ministry outlined 3 types of tests available for COVID-19; Rapid Diagnostics Tests (RDT), Antigen Tests and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests.

Rapid Diagnostics Tests (RDT) are either antibody or antigen. The antibody test is not singularly used for diagnosis and therefore, “it cannot be used for diagnostic purposes,” the Ministry said. 

Antibody tests are only used in surveillance and research as a means to explain the level of exposure of the population. 

“The RDT purchased by the Ministry of Health for survey purposes, although certified by WHO, is still under validation as per in country protocols and the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. This RDT costs USD 5 including the airlifting costs.  It is therefore untrue to say that Ministry of Health bought RDTs at USD 65”.

The Ministry adds that the Antigen test kits used by Uganda were procured each at USD 25. This test is more reliable as it picks the actual virus particles and results can be obtained within a short time. “However, the antigen tests are not easily available globally and this explains the high cost due to increased demand”.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests constitute lengthy and multiple processes. To-date, the Ministry of Health has carried out 125,643 tests using the above method.

According to Dr Atwine, the prices of test kits for PCR vary based on the manufacturer. Currently, the Ministry is procuring test kits from the following manufacturers; Altona PCR kits each procured at USD 25, GeneXpert kits each procured at USD 19.8, ABI Kits each procured at USD 17.2, and COBAS 6800/8800 kits each procured at USD 18.9.

The above costs exclude all other accessories that entail a specific test. Additionally, every test includes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and each PPE costs USD 2.5$. 

“For a health worker to take samples from a person, it is mandatory that he is fully donned in PPE. This PPE is used once and disposed off after every individual test. If this is a requirement per testing, the cost per every test carried out must be taken into consideration,” the Ministry said. 

The PCR tests cannot be carried out excluding requirements such as; sample collection, transportation media and triple packaging, which cost USD 36 per person.

“Therefore, the cost of USD 65 per person was stated as an average estimation. This cost can be higher or lower depending on the supplier of the kits and their associated consumables. Due to the global shortage of test kits, the Ministry of Health procures test kits from all the available qualified and certified suppliers,” Dr Atwine explained.

The Ministry says the cost of USD 65$ referred to by Nsereko is the estimated cost of PCR not RDTs. So far, Government of Uganda and partners have purchased and also placed orders of test kits worth USD 36M.

Nsereko further alleged that when government of Uganda resumes operations of Entebbe International Airport, all passengers will be subjected to pay for COVID-19 test. He also made an assumption that if 2,000 passengers arrive daily, the entity will earn USD 13M in 100 days therefore making an extra Shs 50bn .

The Ministry of Health says all passengers arriving into the country will be subjected to COVID-19 tests to reduce the risk of infection as per our protocols.  All testing is done free of charge at Uganda Virus Research Institute, Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) and Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Immunology Laboratory.

However, the Ministry will accredit any private sector laboratories to carry out COVID-19 testing if they fulfil the requirements for certification as per guidelines set. If a private sector laboratory has undergone the recommended certifications, the tests carried out will be charged. The government will not dictate on the prices as Uganda is a liberal economy.

The Ministry has appealed to the public to be vigilant in order to avoid being fleeced by unscrupulous individuals. It also urged the public to disregard misinformation and venomous allegations against the Ministry of Health. 

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