'We never got nodding disease money'

The National Coordinator of the Nodding Syndrome (NS) Response, Dr Bernard Opar Toliva, has rejected claims by MPs that the ministry of Health misspent Shs 400m meant for assessing the prevalence of the syndrome in northern Uganda.

Toliva says the money has never reached his office, one year since it was allocated.

“The Shs 400m they claim was misused was released late and the process of accessing it is bureaucratic hence the delays,” he told The Observer, Friday.

MPs on the Social Services committee had claimed that the money was spent on developing the research protocols and not the research itself. However, Toliva says researchers conducted private research without government funding and four of the 13 approved reports are yet to be funded.

On February 2012, Parliament passed a resolution urging government to identify resources to facilitate research into the causes of the disease and feed the affected persons. The ministry of Health submitted a supplementary budget request, which was accepted in April 2012.

Shortly after, the government developed a Shs 7bn national response plan to combat the nodding disease syndrome, with key components in vector control, surveillance, relief food supply, research and teacher orientation on management of affected pupils.

Preliminary investigations on 139 children in Kitgum by the ministry and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 128 children had low levels of Vitamin B6 and 69 children had high levels of onchocerca volvulus (which causes river blindness) antigen.

However, because of the small sample size, the research was not conclusive, calling for a large-scale investigation. The Social Services committee recently noted that by July 5, 2012, some 13 research protocols had been approved by the ministry’s research sub-committee. The researchers would complete work on July 20, 2012.

“This research has not been done and Shs 400m has been 'eaten'. The committee recommends that a forensic audit of this expenditure be conducted by the auditor general to establish the value for money for this expense,” committee chairman Medard Bitekyerezo said.


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