Tax on Beer to finance HIV/Aids fund
Cabinet has proposed to allocate two per cent of collections from taxes on alcoholic and soft beverages to finance the Aids Trust Fund (ATF). This is intended to address the resource gaps in the fight against HIV as well as to reduce reliance on donor support.
Endorsed by Parliament in 2012, the Aids Trust Fund is meant to create a separate fund from the Ministry of Health budget so as to tackle the HIV epidemic in the country.
The revelation was made by Ms Esther Mbayo, the minister for Presidency, at a meeting organised between MPs on the Parliamentary Health committee, civil society organisations and the Irish Aid last week.
“We should not depend on donor funding because when donors withdraw, we shall have a gap in funding yet we do not want to register a gap in the fight against Aids,” Ms Mbayo said, adding that the regulations are yet to be discussed by Parliament before approval. She, however, declined to delve into the details of the other regulations until they are tabled in Parliament for discussion.
A total of $2.4m (about Shs8.7b) is expected to be raised from the taxes on spirits and soft beers as an initial fund. The annual budget for HIV/Aids and TB drugs stands at Shs90b, which the civil society organisations have asked government to double to Shs180b so as to avert drug stock outs.
Once the fund is established, Ms Dorothy Nassolo, the communications officer of National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda, said it will help to address other needs of the patients which are not provided by the donor funds. “Sometimes the donor funds are not sufficient because of the strings attached to them. The fund, therefore, will enable us to work without many restrictions,” Ms Dorothy said.
Dr Micheal Bukenya, the chairman of the Parliamentary Health committee, asked the Health ministry to quickly submit the regulations to Parliament so that funds can be included in the budget for 2017/2018 Financial Year.
The Aids Trust Fund was established under the controversial HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill enacted into law in 2014.
The Act, among other things, criminalises the intentional spread of HIV/Aids and caters for the provision of free HIV testing and counselling services.
It also creates government obligations towards HIV management and makes provisions for the protection of rights of persons living with HIV.
The Fund imposes an obligation on the government to make quarterly contributions to the Ministry of Health and guarantees the sustainability of the national HIV/Aids response majorly funded by the donors.
Although a total of 600,000 people in Uganda are on antiretroviral treatment, nearly 90 per cent of the treatment is donor-funded under the PEPFAR and Global Fund.
On the other hand, the American government funds 100 per cent of the Mother to Child Transmission of HIV.
Specifically, Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary Ministry of Health said the fund will be used in the treatment, prevention and care for the HIV/Aids patients, as well as boost the Test and Treat campaign that was launched last year among other areas which are not prioritised by funders. “Although we are looking at having the fund operationalised in the next budget, I can’t be confident to say that,” Dr Atwine said when contacted, adding that: “Ministry of Finance is yet to find other areas in the budget which will contribute to the fund.
However, Uganda Aids Commission executive director emphasised that the Aids Trust Fund is limited to testing and treating but expected to be expanded to other preventive services in future.
Mr Joshua Wamboga, the executive director of Uganda Network of Aids Service Organisations(UNASO) said they are not satisfied with the Health ministry’s failure to share the current revised version of the regulations. “All of us [CSOs] as stake holders need to be consulted before the regulations are discussed by Parliament but all we know is the two per cent taxes on spirits and soft drinks is going to finance the fund yet the regulation was revised,” Mr Wamboga accused.
Dr Benard Etukoit, the executive director of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO), applauded the move by Cabinet as a step in the right direction because they have been pushing for the same. “Although donors have been touching all corners, they have focus areas like circumcision, treatment and elimination of mother to child but not so much has been allocated to testing and treating,” Dr Etukoit said.
The facts at hand
Funding. According to Uganda Aids Commission executive directror Dr Nelson Musoba, until December 2015, they were receiving Shs7b from government for both administration and programatic work and Shs10b from other development partners through a basket fund called the partnership fund. He adds that
Closure. The fund has since closed because all the partners pulled out except the Irish aid and the fund has since reduced to Shs3.4b only.
This has resulted in down scaling some programmes like tracking what other partners do, quality control and messages designed.
About UAC. UAC is a national organisation established by parliamentary statute in 1992 to oversee the implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/ Aids, adopted by the Government of Uganda in 1990.