The availability of drugs: what does it mean in Ugandan primary care

Health Policy. 2003 Aug;65(2):167-79. doi: 10.1016/s0168-8510(03)00003-4.


Availability of drugs is often considered the most important element in quality of health care in rural African settings. Using material collected through mainly qualitative methods, this article examines drug availability in six primary health care units in southeastern Uganda. Emphasis is on the differing perspectives of three categories of actors: health planners/managers; health workers; and users of health services. The main concern is the availability of chloroquine and penicillin, especially injectable forms, and the needles and syringes for administering them. Health sector reforms have changed the conditions for managing, supplying, and using drugs through decentralization, user fees, and privatization. Patients were dissatisfied when they were not able to obtain all drugs prescribed at the health unit. Government health units both compete with, and use, local commercial sources of drugs. They need to attract patients and, with user fees, they are more able to supplement the drug kit supplies provided through the Ministry of Health. There is a need to revise policy in light of the new situation. Dialogue and realism are needed in order to create policies that respect both good medical treatment standards and the concerns of front line workers and their patients. The exercise of rethinking the meaning of drug availability in primary health care calls for methodologies examining the changing context of health care and the positions of different categories of actors, at national and district setting, to appreciate gaps existing between drug policy and practice.

MeSH terms

  • Drugs, Essential / supply & distribution*
  • Health Care Reform
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Uganda


  • Drugs, Essential