Uganda's HIV beer tax

The Guardian Weekly - - Inside - By Sa­muel Okiror KAMPALA

In a move de­signed to make Uganda less re­liant on donors, taxes levied on al­co­hol and soft drinks will be used to fund the coun­try’s HIV treat­ment pro­grammes. The gov­ern­ment be­lieves it will gen­er­ate $2.5m a year, which will be chan­nelled into a new HIV and Aids trust fund (ATF).

The health min­is­ter, Sarah Achieng Opendi, said the move was an in­no­va­tive and cat­alytic step to­wards in­creas­ing the gov­ern­ment’s re­sources.

“We are happy that fi­nally par­lia­ment has ap­proved these reg­u­la­tions [for the fund]. What in­formed this de­ci­sion was that [our] HIV re­sponse pro­gramme is be­ing heav­ily funded by part­ners and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. The idea was that this is not sus­tain­able,” said Opendi.

“We need to have lo­cally gen­er­ated rev­enue to deal with the HIV chal­lenge in the coun­try. In the event that there is re­duced fund­ing from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, we can be able to sus­tain our own in­ter­ven­tions,” she said.

At least 68% of Uganda’s HIV fund­ing comes from donors, 20% from peo­ple liv­ing with HIV, and their fam­i­lies, while only 11% comes from the gov­ern­ment and 1% from the pri­vate sec­tor.

Ac­tivists wel­comed news that the fund was op­er­a­tional, al­though the amount ex­pected to be gen­er­ated is a frac­tion of what is needed.

Ac­cord­ing to Karusa Ki­ragu, UNAids coun­try di­rec­tor for Uganda, more than $700m is needed each year for HIV treat­ment and pre­ven­tion.

“It is true that the ATF will gen­er­ate lim­ited funds com­pared to the $700m-plus needed an­nu­ally for the Aids re­sponse in Uganda. But it is an im­por­tant step for­ward,” she said.

Sylvia Nakasi, pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer at Uganda Net­work of Aids Ser­vice Or­gan­i­sa­tions (Unaso), said: “The 2% of the tax on bev­er­ages and wa­ter to the trust fund is small com­pared to the need, but it’s a start.

“I be­lieve other op­tions will be iden­ti­fied to grow the fund and ad­dress fund­ing to the HIV re­sponse in the coun­try.”

Asia Rus­sell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Health Global Ac­cess Project, added: “The trust fund will not bridge Uganda’s fund­ing gap – to make a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion it must be ex­panded to raise more rev­enue, for ex­am­ple through pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion such as re­vers­ing tax abate­ment for cor­po­ra­tions.

“Uganda must also ex­pand its do­mes­tic al­lo­ca­tion for health and pri­ori­tise fund­ing for life-sav­ing HIV treat­ment over run­ning a bloated state house.”

Ac­tivists also worry that the fund might be vul­ner­a­ble to cor­rup­tion.

“Lives are at stake. The trust fund must be mon­i­tored closely, and civil so­ci­ety must blow the whis­tle at the first hint of wrong­do­ing.

“A board needs to be ap­pointed to make de­ci­sions about how to spend the money,” said Rus­sell. SA­MUEL OKIROR IS A JOUR­NAL­IST BASED IN KAMPALA

STRINGER/AFP/GETTY

Taxes from al­co­hol sales in Uganda will go into an HIV and Aids trust fund

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