MPs query hiring of private labs to test travellers at Entebbe airport

MPs on a fact-finding mission at Entebbe airport

MPs on a fact-finding mission at Entebbe airport

MPs on the Parliamentary Covid-19 taskforce have faulted the ministry of Health for hiring private laboratories to test passengers arriving at Entebbe international airport.

On Saturday, the MPs visited the airport and met officials from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA). In May, a Covid-19 testing centre for travellers from ten countries including India, Kenya, USA was set up Peniel Beach hotel, which is about one kilometre from the airport.

The ministry also said that the tests are being done by three private laboratories, Safari Laboratory, Test and Fly and Case hospital. However, MPs say the ministry has not put in place quality checks at the testing centre.

Dr Michael Bukenya, the chairperson of the committee says that the Health ministry and not private laboratories should test the travellers to protect the credibility of port health systems. Bukenya said they discovered the same laboratories are charging Shs 150,000 at Malaba border point but in excess of Shs 300,000 at Entebbe for the same tests. 

Buikwe South MP, Dr Michael Lulume Bayiga says the private laboratories have been accused of receiving bribes to issue negative test results certificates to travellers who don’t want to be tested. 

Kalungu West MP, Joseph Ssewungu says UCAA and the ministry of Health must tighten enforcement because some travellers present forged Covid-19 results, which he says has tarnished Uganda's reputation abroad. 

Dr James Eyul,  who is supporting the ministry of Health teams at the airport, says health workers are using an application that verifies the authenticity of QR codes on test certificates for both incoming and departing passengers. He explained that incoming passengers who have forged test certificates and test positive for Covid-19 are deported. 

Bukenya says the Health ministry should explain why and how it hired private laboratories to test travellers at the airport. Bukenya also said that there is a need to investigate how the private laboratories were awarded contracts and the reporting procedures between the laboratories and the Health ministry. There are however reports that some of the private laboratories are owned by government officials but with private frontiers. 

"What we have established is that actually the health services in as far as Covid-19 is concerned at the airport, they are run by private companies with supervision of ministry of Health. We couldn't get much details because we only found employees...we have also known that [UCAA] don't have much to do with the assessment of travellers apart from looking at results of those that are exiting and those that are entering. We have established that there are weaknesses because people who have been found positive are sent on home-based care because they are symptomless and then there is no one who monitors them from home. Those are all challenges," said Bukenya.   

Fred Bamwesigye, the UCAA acting director-general also told MPs that the regulatory body did not receive any additional funds for Covid-19 control measures. He adds that they are yet to receive the Shs 4.2 billion that was promised by the National Covid-19 Taskforce for port health services at the airport.

Bamwesigye however says that the authority has put in place some of the measures through internally generated revenue and donations from well-wishers.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd