The Executive Director of Mulago National Referral Hospital, Dr. Baterana Byaruhanga, fondly known as Dr BB, was on Tuesday afternoon arrested and detained at Jinja Road Police Station. He spent a whole night on the cold floor of the police cells.
Officials and plain-clothed operatives from the State House Health Monitoring Unit, led by its Director Warren Namara, picked up Dr. Byaruhanga on allegations of mismanagement of the national referral hospital.
“The hospital has been under their radar for the last couple of months following various concerns on its management and the quality of services rendered to the population,” Namara told journalists.
“We are querying mismanagement of resources, medicines and equipment at the hospital. As the head of the hospital, he is responsible and we invited him to help us with the ongoing investigations mid last month,” he added.
He says that they were forced to arrest the ED for failing to honour their summons.
By last evening, frantic calls from quite a number of people to have him released from the police cells, could not be heeded to.
The calls to the Health Monitoring Unit were also ignored.
Early on into the COVID-19 pandemic around April 2020, Ugandan officials at the heart of the pandemic fight revealed that the hydroxychloroquine used on initial COVID-19 patients had registered tremendous success. They recommended it to President Yoweri Museveni who approved its purchase worth billions of shillings in order to save a desperate population.
In fact, the Director-General of Health Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr Henry Mwebesa sent out this reassuring tweet at the time and revealed:
“The patients we are discharging today were on hydroxychloroquine and erythromycin actually.”
With this tweet and other similar testimonies from some countries in the region, reassured Uganda and the president that a quick therapy had been found in a simple drug named ‘hydroxychloroquine.’
However, a few more weeks of testimonies revealed something was not right about the therapy. And upon landing on reports that the drug might not have been effective, after all, immediately the President picked his phone and dialled Dr. Byaruhanga to inquire how patients at Mulago Hospital were responding to the drug.
Dr. Baterana did not mince his words. He told the president in Rukiga: “Mr. President, nyowe tindaza kukubeiha. Ogu mubazi taawo gurakora.” (Rukiga for- Mr President, I will not tell you lies. Thus the drug does not work).
He continued: “This chloroquine doesn’t cure a virus nor can it control an airborne disease. It is meant for malaria”
After a long chat, the President reportedly said the state would see what else to do and he was not going to blame anyone since the strange disease had caught everyone off guard.
He kept quiet and decided to soldier on with the fight against the pandemic while also quietly investigating the purchase of the drug and what motivated it.
As the fight against the virus that was puzzling the medical community in Uganda and abroad raged on, the drug was reportedly suspended and reports say the tonnes that had been imported were destroyed leading to huge losses to the government.
Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) discontinued experimental treatments involving the use of hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir after the initial results of an international trial showed the drugs produced little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients, reported the influential Reuters.
However, this story did not get to the Ugandan public that had already been cowed into a total lockdown by a mysterious virus that had no clear medical explanation.
“Even those who recommended the drug to the president did so innocently because at the time, the world was experimenting with it and Uganda was no exception,” a source said.
However, other sources added that this would be Dr BB’s beginning of problems, some literary self-inflicted because the information he passed onto the president appeared like he had snitched his colleagues who were at the frontline of the fight against the pandemic with him.
Why State House has swung into Action
When the administration of the drug was suspended and consignments reportedly destroyed, Dr BB requested health ministry officials to start paying extra allowances to frontline workers at Mulago Hospital. Mulago had been turned into a national COVID-19 management epicenter and the health workers at the frontline deserved special consideration.
The officials reportedly asked him for a full list of the workers which he provided.
Upon filing the list, money reportedly gazetted for their payments was sent regularly.
It is this money that has now become the subject of a State House investigation and his subsequent detention because its accountability is reportedly not clear and Dr BB has a question to answer here.
The Director of the Unit Dr. Warren Namara told journalists that Dr BB has been mismanaging the hospital and has questions for him that have accrued from a long-term clandestine investigation.
The questions range from how he managed these allowances, procurement of drugs and equipment as well as his governance style that has been raising concerns from many stakeholders.
The unit also wants him to answer why the hospital allowed private pharmacies to operate within its premises yet the government supplies all the necessary drugs to the facility.
More Unanswered Questions
Amidst all these concerns, sources close to the Dr BB’s wing and also those close to the Ministry and the State House Health Monitoring Unit wings, are all asking the following counter questions:
1: If the Auditor-General reports of the last four years have all cleared him, what is the problem now? Are there loopholes in these reports?
2: The issue regarding the presence of private pharmacies within the hospital premises was a matter that both the Ministry of Health and Mulago Hospital agreed upon because of the need for convenient access to special drugs the government is unable to supply to the facility. When the issue raised public concern and the private operators were asked to close shop, they sued the Attorney General who in turn advised that they should be left to complete their contract and leave. Why is this matter being raised at this point?
3: It is true that Mulago Hospital does not procure medicines and other medical sundries. This is the work of the National Medical Stores (NMS). Dr BB received particular emergency supplies from NMS which he managed at his discretion. Why is he not allowed to be questioned by other relevant agencies such as the State House Health Monitoring Unit who have credible questions for him?
4: Why has Dr BB been rejecting summons to answer queries that are inspired by how the hospital has managed the COVID-19 funds and other related issues?
His appointment followed investigations into corruption allegations and mismanagement by the Health Monitoring Unit that saw the transfer of the then Executive Director Dr. Edward Ddumba.
Dr. Byarugaba came in with promises of improving services at Mulago National Referral Hospital and fighting corruption that had bedevilled the institution.
(Adapted from Mediascapenews.com)