Government yields to pressure, avails funds for nodding disease victims

SENABULYA MASSO

A spirited fight from either side of the House forced government to yield to pressure and commit more funds for the treatment and care of nodding syndrome patients in Northern Uganda.

On Wednesday, the State Minister for Planning David Bahati tabled in Parliament a Shs 1.3bn supplementary budget request for the treatment of the mysterious disease that has tormented children in the Acholi sub-region since 2011.

While there was in agreement about the funding, Bahati had to answer queries in regard to the money that was included in the current financial year’s budget to combat the syndrome.

Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza for instance told the House that much as she was not against the acquisition of money for nodding disease, she asked the executive to explain whether the Shs 4bn that was allocated for the purpose had been exhausted before Parliament could approve additional funding.

“During the consultation, we agreed that you go and look at the budget. I didn’t want to go into the details on each program [but] I find it uncomforting… we have appropriated money under the current budget. Tell us whether it’s not there and we can approve it,” Kiiza said.

Without a ready answer, Bahati told the House that the Ministry of Finance received a supplementary budget request from Ministry of Health which they processed.

Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng told Parliament that money being talked of was Shs 400m which was general clinical services and emergencies including the nodding syndrome.

Sensing danger, the State Minister for Housing Dr Chris Baryomunsi took the floor.

“Cabinet took time to debate the priorities and intervention which included food, physio therapy for the children. The budget needed is 1.3bn. We are exploring the fastest means of delivering the money, which is through the supplementary budget,” Dr Baryomunsi said.

On Tuesday, the government front bench faced a tough time after government indicated that it had raised Shs 73m to go towards efforts against the disease.

Enraged MPs from either side of the House threatened to block other funding requests by government.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah was forced to suspend the plenary sitting for 15 minutes to allow the ministers to consult but on resumption, the deputy leader of government business in Parliament also 1st Deputy Prime Minister Gen Moses Ali asked for an adjournment to enable his team make wider consultations.

Out of the Shs 1.3 bn, government had wanted Shs 199m to be channeled through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to cater for social support programs an idea that the MPs rejected.

Aruu MP Samuel Odonga Otto suggested that instead, the money be sent directly to the affected districts to empower and facilitate members of the village health teams who are attend to the victims first once they develop seizures.

“We would like this money to be approved, but the distribution should be revised and the Ministry of Gender be struck off the recipients of funds for social intervention, and, the Ministry of Health should use their current budget to monitor the disbursement,” Otto said.

Otto was supported by the Shadow Attorney General also Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba.

“If you look at the budget items, only Shs 15m will go to feed the affected victims of nodding disease, the big chunk of the money will go to those people who ordinarily drive cars. How will that aspect of expenditure help the victims?”Niwagaba wondered.

Bahati conceded and accepted that the money be sent directly to the districts. Pader district will receive Shs 324m, Kitgum Shs 267m, Omoro Shs 219m, Lamwo Shs 175 and Shs 110m to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital.

Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng with Ajuri MP Hamson Obua after Tuesday’s heated debate on funding for nodding disease victims.

Gulu and Amuru district will each get Shs 78m while Oyam district will receive Shs 36m.

The allocations were made based on to the magnitude of this disease in each of the affected districts.

This intervention will last for only three months as government prepares to take over the nodding disease treatment centres in Odek and Tumangur in Omoro district.