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NDA admits it found ARVs in meat but never issued public warning

Kampala, (UG): The National Drug Authority (NDA) has admitted that it knew the anti-retroviral (ARV), an HIV medicine was being used to fatten up animals in 2014 but did not warn the public.

This was revealed by the Senior Drugs Inspector at NDA, Mr Amos Atumanya who was appearing before Parliament’s House Committee on HIV/Aids to answer queries on reports in the media that anti-retrovirals were being given to pigs and chickens to treat them.

Mr Atumanya admitted knowledge of the incident and said the authority learnt about the dangerous malpractice 10 years ago and conducted an investigation in 2014 to verify the claims for which it came to the conclusion that for humans, consuming small quantities of the drugs in food could be dangerous.

“In 2013, through the pharmacovigilance system, the NDA received reports of the misuse of ARVs in pigs and chickens, and in 2014, the NDA carried out an investigation into the use of antiretrovirals (ARVs) in animal farming. However, while a report was published, it did not issue a public warning for fear of hurting the country’s food exports “if we blow it out of proportion,” Mr Atumanya told the committee.

“So we were trying to find other means in which we could manage that situation,” he added.

However, Mr Atumanya said that, unlike the media reports that focused on fattening pigs, the NDA found out that ARVs were mainly used to treat African Swine Fever, also known as pig ebola.

“The disease currently has no remedy. In addition, there were reports of the use of ARVs against New Castle Disease in chicken,” he added.

National Drug Authority Senior Inspector of Drugs Amos Atumanya (right) appears before the HIV/Aids Committee at Parliament

The top NDA boss said consumption of the ARVs without being diagnosed with HIV could cause serious problems for humans who ate the meat and became infected with the virus.

“You are likely to develop resistance to these ARVs,” he said. “In the future, if you need them, then you’ll find this ARV is not working for some.”

NDA disowns Atumanya’s comments

However, the NDA has since tried to downplay on Mr Atumanya’s comments, the Authority Spokesperson saying if there was a health risk it would have warned the public, and that the NDA’s job was to regulate drugs, not food or animal feed.

“The NDA is mandated to regulate the drugs, not food or animal feeds,” he said, adding; “If there was any public health threat concerning the drugs under the use, NDA will be the first one to come out and warn the public as we always do.

Mr Rwamwiri maintains that the NDA remains “vigilant and committed to ensuring that Ugandans have access to safe, efficacious and quality medicines.”

He added that the regulator had launched several actions to stop the misuse of drugs, which led to several arrests and prosecution.

The NDA’s report back in 2014, found that antiretrovirals were mainly used to treat African swine fever which is also known as Pig Ebola and currently has no cure. It also verified claims that ARVs were being used to treat Newcastle disease in chickens.

A recent report by the prestigious Makerere University found that more than a third of chicken and 50% of pork it tested contained traces of anti-retroviral drugs. The meat was sourced from markets in the capital, Kampala, and the northern city of Lira.

One respondent to the study by Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences said pigs that were given anti-retroviral drugs “grow faster and fatter and are sold off quickly”.

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