Uganda plans to link access to public health services with national Id

The government is in advanced stages of preparations to enforce a proposal for only National Identity Cards (IDs) holders to enjoy healthcare services at public health facilities, this newspaper can reveal.

Health minister Jane Aceng on Monday confirmed that they are setting up a digital system with in-built mechanism to, among other things, enable pharmacies not to dispense drugs to patients without IDs.

“We are already working on that software. We are still working as well as mobilising resources for it as we need it rolled out to the entire country,” Dr Aceng said in an interview.

Officials hope the plan will help create an easy-to-retrieve patients’ records, establish actual numbers and provide a mechanism of tracing, accountability and follow up on use of medicines supplied to public facilities.

The government plan yesterday drew mixed reactions from health rights activists, medical professionals and ordinary citizens.

Whereas Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the president of Uganda Medical Association, welcomed the idea, some Ugandans this newspaper interviewed echoed disapproval and likened it to a mass death sentence.

Mr Onyul Larry, a teacher, said he lost his ID last year and repeated trips to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) to have it replaced have failed.

“This means if I ever fell sick before I got back [my ID], I would surely have to rot. The government needs to look into this matter first,” he said.

About 19 million out of the estimated 38 million Ugandans have registered for IDs, although 14 million have picked the printed documents, according to NIRA spokesman Gilbert Kadilo.

The national IDs are increasingly being required during school enrolment, registration of mobile phone SIM cards and, in some cases, by financial institutions.

Mr Moses Talibita, a legal officer at the Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation, demanded for enactment of a law to guide technology use in healthcare delivery to prevent abuse of patients’ rights.

“The Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities Bill, 2017, [should be passed into law because it seeks] to operationalise introduction of medical technologies that promote medically comfortable principles of medical records,” he said.

The draft law initiated by Busiki County MP Paul Akamba aims to specify rights and responsibilities of patients, streamline health workers-patients relations and improve care quality. A similar Bill tabled in the 9th Parliament collapsed after Kigulu South MP Milton Muwuma, the mover, failed to obtain a certificate of financial implication to show the likely cost of implementation.