U.S. Cuts Funding to Uganda Health Ministry Over Corruption

Kampala — The United States Agency for International Development (USAid) has terminated funding to Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG) over fraudulent activities.

This newspaper has learnt that officials misused funds under a four-year programme known as the Usaid/Uganda social marketing activity (SMA).

This has since resulted in loss of jobs and closure of more than 60 good life clinics across the country.

“USAid/Uganda terminated its cooperative agreement to UHMG for failure to comply with the terms of the agreement including fraud reporting. The US government takes any allegation of corruption seriously and has no tolerance for malfeasance,” said Mr Phil Dimon, the US Embassy spokesperson, in an email exchange yesterday.

The SMA programme was aimed at creating an integrated, sustainable health market that maximises private sector and social marketing channels to reach out to Uganda’s underserved priority health areas, including HIV/Aids, malaria, family planning, maternal and child health.

According to the affected UHMG staff who preferred anonymity, they were asked by management to stop all their field activities on May 23.

“Please following the acting chief of party (COP) communication to cancel all activities till further notice, this is to inform you (those in the field) that today is your last day in the field,” Mr Moses Sendijja, the SMA regional programme coordinator, wrote in an email.

“This means therefore that latest tomorrow you should check out from your respective hotels and revert to the regional office. This also affects the dedicated service providers,” he added.

According to a UHMG staff based in Western Uganda, they were asked to stop working by July 12, but the SMA programme was due to expire in September 2019.

A top official in the Ministry of Health also confirmed that USAid had withdrawn funding to the social marketing group.

“They have withdrawn funding, yes, but whether due to fraud, I don’t know,” the Health ministry official said in a text message.

Founded by a group of distinguished public health and social marketing Ugandan professionals, UHMG is an indigenous not-for-profit organisation.

About the project

The USAid/Uganda Social Marketing Activity project worth Shs80.2 billion was launched in April, 2006.

At launch of the SMA project, the then chief of party, Mr Dennis Ahairwe, said the project was meant to bring services closer to the youth through private clinics as opposed to public health facilities.

He said instead of having a mother die on the way to the hospital, the project wanted to empower private clinics to offer these services so that the pregnant women can deliver from there.

The withdrawal of funding by USAid, means that a majority of the beneficiaries will now go back to the public facilities that are normally affected by shortage of drugs and supplies.

Related incident

Previously, Uganda missed GAVI funds for more than six years since 2006 when the organisation suspended cash support to the country following the misappropriation of the $4.3m (about Shs7,6b).

The suspension of funding affected the country so much that immunisation coverage dropped from 83 per cent in 2008 to 76 per cent in 2009/10, according to Health ministry statistics. As the downward trend continued, the national immunisation coverage reached 52 per cent in 2011, turning Uganda into one of the countries with the lowest number of fully immunised children in the world.

In May 2007, former Health minister Jim Muhwezi, his two ex-junior colleagues; Capt Mike Mukula and Dr Alex Kamugisha, and a State House official, Ms Alice Kaboyo, were arrested and charged with embezzlement and abuse of office after the IGG concluded that $4.3m (Shs14.6b) Gavi monies had been misused.

First Published by the Monitor

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