By Mathias Katamba
Information reaching our desk informs that the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), which is the country’s central testing facility for coronavirus, is struggling with severely low funding from the government.
According to officials at the UVRI who did not want the names disclosed for fear of being suspended told the Homeland Newspaper, that for the last one and half months, the institute has not got testing kits from the Ministry of Health.
The officials have further revealed that, the government only gives 10 per cent of the estimated Shs90b used annually to operationalize the routine testing and medical research at the government-owned facility. The rest (90 per cent) is sourced from foreign donors by internal researchers.
It is further said that at the UVRI it’s not good news they are struggling with recruiting and maintaining experts to work at the facility, acquiring special equipment and getting resources for developing vaccines and solutions against important diseases.
The latest Auditor General’s report shows that the UVRI had an approved structure of 237 positions but out of whom only 88 or 37 per cent were filled and 149 positions remained vacant as of the time the audit was conducted.
Last week, the UVRI director, Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, revealed to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament that the institute has not been given any money from the Shs304b allocated by the Ministry of Finance to aid in the national Covid-19 response.
“What we did with ourselves internally was to divert our budget for quarter three and quarter four. We put on hold all other research activities and put all the money into Covid-19 and we managed to put in about Shs780m which went to the kits, reagents, consumables and some allowances. Otherwise, we have not got any additional funding,” he told MPs.
Presenting to the MPs, Prof Kaleebu also revealed that their $1.7m budget presented to the Ministry of Health towards their Covid-19 related work has never been availed.
A source from the UVRI who spoke to The Homeland Newspaper on Tuesday on condition of anonymity denied the claim by Dr. Diana Atwine, the Health Ministry’s permanent secretary, in her accountability update on Sunday that the Ministry was giving support to the UVRI.
“We have not received any testing kits from the Ministry of Health for the last one-and-half months. We do not know why they took over the money that was supposed to come directly to us from the Finance Ministry,” the source said.
“We know where we buy our testing kits from and since when did we ask that we wanted them (Ministry of Health) to be our procurement agent?” the seemingly irritated source added.
According to the source, the overall annual budget that the government gives to the UVRI such as the Shs9b of the financial year 2019/20, is too tiny to do research and test.
“Most of those money, we use to pay for utilities. We use it to pay a few staff members who are under government and they are less than 20 per cent. The other portion we use for cleaning the building and very little money remains from the government to support research,” the source added.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said the government has been giving support to UVRI.
She said the lengthy process for a government entity to avail funds to another stopped the direct provision of Covid-19 funds to the research body.
“Everything for UVRI has been coming from the Ministry of Health to avoid illegalities of transferring money to the entities (such as UVRI) without memorandum of understanding,” she said.
According to Dr. Atwine, under Public Finance Management Act, transferring money that is appropriated to Ministry of Health to UVRI or to Mulago Hospital, requires a Memorandum of Understanding which also has to go through the Solicitor General, which according to her would take a lot of time yet the money was needed for urgent use.