Parliamentary Concerns Arise Over Foreigners’ Free Medical Care at Uganda Cancer Institute

The issue of providing complimentary medical care to foreigners at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) has raised red flags among Members of Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee (Central Government).

During a session chaired by Hon. Muwanga Kivumbi on Tuesday, 14 May 2024, Dr. Jackson Orem, the Executive Director, informed the committee that the institute offers free treatment to both Ugandan citizens and foreigners, constituting 20 percent of the patient base.

However, this assertion came under scrutiny as MPs questioned the rationale behind providing free healthcare services to non-citizens. Hon. Suzan Amero, the Woman Representative for Amuria District, contended that foreigners, who do not contribute taxes to Uganda, should not be exempt from medical charges.

Dr. Orem clarified that the 20 percent of foreigners receiving complimentary treatment are primarily East Africans, for whom there is no established framework for imposing medical fees. Hon. Amero pointed out the disparity, noting that even within East Africa, Ugandans do not receive free medical treatment.

She cited an example of Members of Parliament attending the East African Community games in Arusha, who had to rely on insurance or cash payments for medical services. “Why provide them with free treatment when those funds could be used as non-tax revenue to support other Ugandan needs? After all, the facility is located here and managed by Ugandans. Why should it be free for everyone?” she questioned.

She suggested that if the institute intends to offer a subsidy for East Africans, it should be implemented accordingly. Muwanga Kivumbi indicated their intention to recommend to the House that complimentary treatment for foreigners be ceased and replaced with a fee-based system. The cancer institute records 7400 new patients annually. The Outpatient Department registers between 250-300 individuals daily.

Uganda, as a nation, reports 3500 new cancer cases yearly. The committee also raised concerns about what they termed as questionable spending of Shs5 billion by the institution. Hon. Xavier Kyooma (NRM, Ibanda County North) expressed dissatisfaction with the entity proceeding to spend funds without proper cost estimation.

He questioned the validity of the expenditure, given the inability of the accounting officer to justify the lack of costing.

“How can you proceed with spending when the activities have no associated costs? Expenditure should be based on allocated funds,” Kyooma remarked.

Hon. Gorreth Namugga (NUP, Mawogola County South) also questioned the utilization of the Shs5 billion, stating that the institution has failed to provide clarity on how the funds were utilized.