Interview. President Museveni last week launched the Mass Action Against Malaria (MAAM) programme, one of the anti-malaria initiatives boosted by the Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria. Uganda joined the rest of the world to mark the International Malaria Day on April 25. Solomon Arinaitwe talked to Jinja West MP Moses Balyeku, the chairman of the Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria, about what the forum will do to aid the fight against malaria.
What does the Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria intend to achieve?
The Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria (UPFM) is a forum that brings MPs together to add onto the efforts that the government is putting towards the eradication of malaria. We realised that we needed to have another forum where MPs can trigger the fight against malaria down to their constituencies. We are working with Ministry of Health and all the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that are involved in the malaria fight. Our purpose is to give an extra hand in the fight against malaria that has burdened our people for long.
What do you intend to do at constituency level? What should individual MPs do in their constituencies in order to take charge of the fight against malaria?
Politicians have wider ways for disseminating information and when you look at our constituencies, MPs have access to different groups of people like Saccos, women groups, youth groups and special interest groups. If MPs take the anti-malaria message to their constituencies and advocate for testing for malaria, sleeping in treated mosquito nets, cutting bushes around homes and removing stagnant water, this can help tackle malaria at constituency level. It will be more of MPs taking on a role of advocacy. I am sure constituents listen to their MPs. It is basically sensitisation.
There have been concerns from Parliament committees that such fora undermine committee work and ultimately defeat the purpose of committees. For instance, the Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria may duplicate the work of the Health Committee?
The Health Committee is established by the Rules of Parliament. It is bigger than the forum because it can summon witnesses, is accountable and it makes reports to the House. But the Forum is bigger than the committee in terms of numbers and it brings together non-partisan ideologies to solve a problem. So the forum is not established by the Constitution or the rules but it is there as a bigger voice to champion the fight against malaria with a common cause and objective. So the issue of clashing with the Health Committee will not arise. Actually, we will help and support them.
What of the concerns that Parliament has not been very supportive of the health sector because the allocation to the health sector is still lower than 15 per cent agreed upon in the Abuja Declaration where Uganda is also a signatory? What can the forum do to address this gap?
There are many areas where budgets are still low. For instance, 75 per cent of the malaria budget in the Ministry of Health is donor-funded. So when we were in London for the Malaria Summit, all governments committed to increase their [anti-malaria] budgets. For Uganda, President Museveni committed to have a Malaria Fund. This Fund is going to cater for the gap in the budget so that we have an increase in the budget allocated to the Ministry to handle the fight against malaria. All ministries will say they are under-funded-even the Ministry of Defence. In Uganda, all ministries always say they are under-funded. This forum will help the ministry to mobilise more funds.
What is the progress of putting in place of the Malaria Fund?
For such a Fund, there is need to have laws because you have to remember that all Funds have to be regulated by Parliament if they are to draw money from the Consolidated Fund. We will have to prepare a law that puts in place the Fund so that even if it is audited by the Auditor General, the money has to strictly be focused on the fight against malaria and the ministry can quickly access it and put it to use.
The Malaria Indicator Survey of 2014/15 still shows that between 35 per cent to 50 per cent of Ugandans are still affected by malaria?
One of the achievements of the Ministry of Health is that there are some areas and districts where malaria has been eradicated. Most parts of Kampala don’t have malaria. After spraying in Teso, there was no malaria. You find that most of these places that were referred to in the Malaria Indicator Survey are in particular districts and to the ministry, if it goes on with the indoor spraying and it is used all over the country, it can be effective. There are some countries like Swaziland that do not have malaria.
At Parliament during the launch of the Mass Action Against Malaria (MAAM), President Museveni talked of this disagreement over the use of DDT or indoor spraying?
We agitate for eradication. We do not agitate for reduction. Our purpose is eradication and elimination. Elimination and eradication are different things. The people in the ministry are very keen on reduction. For us we are saying that we can work as a forum to study the different methods.
We can even benchmark in countries like Swaziland that have eliminated malaria to see what anti-malaria measures were put there and whether they can be implemented here.
Because you see that the companies that are manufacturing these nets do not want to get out of business, those manufacturing drugs also want to remain in business. So if they bring DDT and they spray and it has no side-effects, why are people saying it has side-effects? So as a forum, we also need to look at that. Is it true DDT has side-effects on human nature? Then also, how much does Uganda spend on malaria, especially in buying drugs and treatment. If you compute that money for a year, is it worth it. Or we can do mass treatment like it was done in Ghana. The only mosquito that causes malaria is one that is infected. So it’s possible we can have mass treatment here.
Balyeku’s take on Key issues
On how Uganda Parliament Forum on Malaria will work
The forum will work with the Ministry of Health to work on the laws that are needed as far as malaria is concerned. For instance, the forum can work with the ministry to formulate a law to cut down the prices of drugs and taxation on drugs. The forum can also be another voice for the ministry at Parliament to support the ministry in its work. We have so many laws that we have not passed under the health sector.
On fund for fight against malaria
President Museveni committed to have a Malaria Fund that will cater for the gap in the budget.
On achievements in the fight against malaria
There are some areas and districts where malaria has been eradicated. Most parts of Kampala don’t have malaria. After spraying in Teso, there was no malaria.
On disagreement over indoor spraying?
If they bring DDT and they spray and it has no side-effects, why are people saying it has side-effects? So as a forum, we also need to look at that. Is it true DDT has side-effects on human nature?
On Forum relation with Health Committee?
The Health Committee is bigger than the Forum. The issue of clashing with the Health Committee will not arise. Actually, we will help and support them.
On partners of Forum and its goals
We are working with Ministry of Health and all the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that are involved in the malaria fight. Our purpose is to give an extra hand in the fight against malaria that has burdened our people for long.