Dr Joseph Ochieng, a Bioethicist based at the Department of Anatomy who was the Principal investigator on the survey says the Ministry of Health couldn’t avail them guidelines which they based on to zero on what they referred to as priority populations.
A new study by Makerere University-based bio-ethicists has found
that the government blundered regarding who should be given priority as initial
beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Launching preliminary findings of the survey in which scientists sought to
establish ethical and social issues for vaccine priority setting and access on
Friday, the scientists said key stakeholders in the country were not consulted
and as a result, they didn’t contextualize the intervention to match the
reality in the country.
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Dr Joseph Ochieng, a Bioethicist based at the Department of
Anatomy who was the Principal investigator on the survey says the Ministry of
Health couldn’t avail them guidelines which they based on to zero on what they
referred to as priority populations.
According to the Ministry of Health, health workers, teachers, security personnel
and the elderly aged 50 years in addition to people living with pre-existing
medical conditions that compromise their immunity are to get vaccinated first
in an exercise that started last week.
But, Ochieng says their respondents interviewed between January and March
pointed out that truckers, sex workers, those involved in public transport like
taxi drivers, people much older than 50 years and frequent travellers ought to
have been among the first beneficiaries.
The respondents reached out to through key informant and in-depth interviews
included members of the National COVID-19 task force, public health experts,
clinicians involved in COVID-19 treatment, human rights experts and bioethicists.
Ocheing says that the government should have consulted these key
stakeholders before embarking on the exercise.
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Dr John Barugahare, a lecturer in the department of philosophy at
Makerere University said that the decisions of choosing who benefits first were
left to people who are supposed to roll out something he finds problematic
wondering how the Ministry considers the elderly who live in rural areas at the
expense of a taxi driver who interacts with many people each day and can transmit
to a lot of other people once infected.
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He says if the government had gathered enough evidence of who
Uganda’s priority populations are there’s no way constant travellers would have
missed on the list considering that data indicates that even with the onset of
community transmission, still, four in every five patients that were
admitted with COVID-19 had a travel-related history or interaction with a traveller.
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This study comes at a time when the Ministry has just altered its
priority population plan allowing only the elderly of 70 years and above to
On Thursday, health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said this decision
was reached because of the limited vaccine stock currently available.
While the government had initially planned to vaccinate slightly
more than 3.3 million people aged 50 and above, the Minister says the country
has so far accessed only 964,000 doses of the drug which should be used by
different key populations.
Ochieng says the current confusion is because due diligence wasn’t
done recommending that government needs to do a continuous assessment of their
prioritization as more vaccines become available.
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The researchers recommend the need to set evidence-based criteria
for access to scarce health resources and making such decisions accessible to
the public, even for future epidemics or other public health emergencies.
The study was funded by the World Health Organization.