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Parliament has asked Government to consider increasing the health budget to subsidize the cost of managing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), saying that the burden is unbearable for an average Ugandan.

The MPs said that public health centers aren’t adequately stocked with treatment for NCDs and asked Government to provide free drugs especially to Ugandans suffering from Diabetes and Hypertension.

The Kanungu District Woman MP, Patience Nkunda, while moving a motion to urge Government to provide free drugs for non-communicable disease patients said that, “40% of health centres in Uganda don’t have drug stocks for diabetic and high blood pressure cases and yet they are too expensive for the people, if Government doesn’t intervene, we are going to lose so many people.”

While seconding the motion, majority of the MPs asked that the motion is amended to include other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and not just restrict it to diabetes and HBP.

“Government should also focus on other important NCDs that are equally expensive to treat and yet claiming lives of Ugandans. Diseases like Sickle Cells, there is no blood sometimes for patients especially in the rural areas,” said Isaac Otimgiw Isaac (Padyere County MP).

The 2015–20 Uganda Health Sector Development Plan describes the importance of providing a comprehensive package of essential health services encompassing NCD prevention, control, and management.

In this plan, 17% of the health budget is allocated to NCDs, and of that, 60% is directed toward prevention activities. However, a funding gap of 29% was identified as a challenge for achieving Uganda’s health agenda.

A 2017 Access to Cardiovascular diseases, Chronic Obstructive pulmonary disease, Diabetes mellitus and Asthma Drugs and diagnostics (ACCODAD) study aimed at providing contemporary information about the availability, cost, and affordability of medicines and diagnostic tests integral in the management of NCDs in Uganda noted how costly it is to manage NCDs in Uganda.

According to the report, the majority of lower-tier public hospitals (health centres 1, 2, 3, and 4) which are easily accessible to the general population are more oriented towards the management of Communicable diseases (CDs) as opposed to NCDs. Patients with NCD are often referred to higher tier public hospitals (district referral or national referral hospitals) and the costly private hospitals for further management.

Monthly management of an adult diabetic patient with the cheapest oral hypoglycaemic agents (Glibenclamide 5 mg and metformin 500 mg), ACEI (captopril 25 mg), statin (simvastatin 20 mg), and anti-platelet drug (cardiac aspirin 75 mg) would cost a total of 15.8 USD; equivalent to 12.2 days’ wages.

The monthly cost increased to 19.1 USD or 14.7 days’ wages if glimepiride, a newer generation sulphonylurea was used or to 21.3 USD or 16.4 days’ wages if pre mixed insulin was used instead of a sulphonylurea.

Management of hypertension co-morbidity by adding the cheapest CCB (nifedipine 20 mg) would cost 19.4 USD or 14.9 days’ wages. Secondary prevention of CVD using the cheapest selective beta-blocker (bisoprolol 5 mg), ACEI (captopril 25 mg), statin (simvastatin 20 mg) and anti-platelet drug (cardiac aspirin 75 mg) would cost a total of 18.3 USD per month which is equivalent to 14.1 days’ wages

On his part, Bugahya County MP, Pius Wakabi blamed the National Drug Authority (NDA) for failure to regulate fake drugs on the market saying that so many people with diabetes use the fake drugs because they are desperate which instead worsens their condition.

Other MPs urged Government to promote healthy lifestyles by sensitizing and encouraging Ugandans to eat healthily and live healthy lifestyles of regular exercise. They asked that the Government should introduce a national physical exercise policy because it will go a long way in addressing the issue of NCDs since many are lifestyles diseases.

“Prevention is better than cure and Health is wealth. I want to thank the President for being exemplary. He jogs and does push-ups every morning and through this, he is able to fight NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and hypertension,” Tom Aza (West Moyo MP) said.

Chief Opposition Whip, John Baptist Nambeshe appealed to the government to provide free airtime on all electronic media for health workers to sensitize the public about NCDs

“It should not be a preserve of RDCs, it should be an exercise conducted by technical people to sensitize the public about prevention and cure of these diseases,” Nambeshe said