In a surprising revelation, the government has not provided any funding to facilitate the activities of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The matter was brought to the attention of parliament’s public accounts committee (PAC) on Friday by UVRI director Prof Pontiano Kaleebu.
Kaleebu had led officials before the committee to respond to audit queries raised by the auditor general in his report. The institute which hosts a regional referral lab on influenza was for a long period the sole research and testing facility for COVID-19 in the country until other facilities were approved last month.
It continues to test the majority of the over 2,000 daily suspected COVID samples. But Kaleebu told legislators that they had to suspend all other activities for the third and fourth quarters and diverted Shs 780 million from other research programs to fund COVID-19 work.
“What we did with ourselves internally was to divert our budget for quarter 3 and quarter 4. We put on hold all other research activities and put all the money into COVID and we managed to put in about Shs 780m which went to the kits, reagents, consumables and some allowances. We used our internal funds to redirect for quarter 3 and quarter 4 in order to work on our activities. Otherwise, we have not got any additional funding.” Kaleebu told MPs.
Kaleebu stated that UVRI presented a budget of $1.7 million (about Shs 6.32 billion) to the ministry of Health towards their COVID-19 related work but the funding has never been availed. He notes that most of the funding has come in from external donors and partners like the World Health Organisation (WHO), Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Jack Ma Foundation.
Frederick Angura the Tororo South MP was curious as to why the institute has been neglected and yet the government had been availed a hefty COVID-19 response supplementary budget.
“As a parliament, we sat and concluded some quick supplementary directly towards not only supporting food but other things COVID. At this point in time, you’re COVID yourself because you’re the one who determines who is positive and who is negative. How come you have not been considered.” said Angura.
Parliament recently passed a supplementary budget of Shs 304bn to support the COVID fight. Government has also received donor funds and loans from the European Union, World Bank, WHO, African Development Bank among others to help in the fight against the pandemic. So far, Uganda has carried out over 140,000 coronavirus tests since the disease outbreak in March 2020.
PAC vice chairperson Okin Ojara asked Kaleebu to explain about the state of COVID-19 cases in Uganda. Uganda has so far recorded 755 cases of COVID-19 and 492 recoveries over the last three months. Majority of these were recorded among truck drivers, who entered the country from Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan.
Kaleebu said that majority of the positive COVID-19 cases in Uganda young people yet other countries have registered cases among the elder people with a medical history.
He, however, said that it is not yet clear why Africa has a mild disease compared to other continents except for the obvious reason of age. Kaleebu said that they are proud that the institute’s work is appreciated especially during this pandemic.