In 1993, the National Drug Authority (NDA) was established following the enactment of the National Drug Policy and Authority Statute, later becoming the National Drug Policy and Authority Act in 2000. Its primary objectives included ensuring the availability of essential, effective, and affordable drugs for all Ugandans while supporting public healthcare and responsible drug use. Currently, the NDA oversees both human and veterinary medications.
A senior official from the NDA stunned members of the HIV/AIDS Committee in Parliament when he confessed that the authority was aware of, but had taken no action against the dangerous practice of using antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to fatten farm animals. This shocking revelation raised concerns among legislators, as it poses severe health risks to humans.
The Senior Inspector of Drugs at the NDA, Mr. Amos Atumanya, admitted that the authority had known about this malpractice for a decade and had conducted an investigation in 2014 to verify the claims. Reports about the misuse of ARVs in pigs and chickens had surfaced in 2013, primarily for treating African Swine Fever and New Castle Disease in poultry.
Committee members were left speechless when Mr. Atumanya revealed that the NDA had kept quiet due to concerns about the impact on the country’s economy. He explained that they were taking measures without causing alarm, despite knowing about the issue for a significant period.
The NDA’s response followed the submission of information by researchers from Makerere University College of Health Sciences, who had confirmed the presence of ARV medicines in farm chickens consumed in Uganda. The misuse of ARVs in poultry was driven by economic gains from rapid growth and fattening of the birds.
Further details indicated that farmers and others were irregularly acquiring ARV medicines from public health facilities and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Some individuals were allegedly registering multiple times at health facilities, allowing them to access these restricted medicines more than once.
Legislators, including Joel Leku and Polycarp Ogwari, criticized the NDA for concealing this information for a decade, expressing disappointment and emphasizing that this misuse of drugs was widespread across the country.
Mr. Atumanya’s revelation that consuming chicken fattened with ARVs could make HIV/AIDS-negative individuals resistant to life-saving medication and lead to hypertension raised even more alarm among MPs. Such misuse could also contribute to the development of resistant viral strains in individuals not on antiretroviral therapy (ART) due to exposure to suboptimal ARV doses in food.
Furthermore, Mr. Atumanya pointed out that this practice could undermine the government’s efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Uganda, as ARVs are expensive and crucial for treatment. The diversion of these drugs from human use could deny patients access to these life-saving medications.
The revelations may prompt investigations into whether the persistent ARV drug shortages nationwide are linked to theft and diversion for such unethical purposes.
To address the issue, the government has initiated sensitization campaigns about the dangers of using ARVs in poultry and other farm animals. The NDA has engaged farmers, veterinary professionals, and the public through radio and TV talk shows and conducted enforcement activities to curb the unauthorized possession and use of drugs, including ARVs, across the country.