Three healthcare workers and one person have been arrested in separate incidents for stealing drugs and other medical equipment at two health centres in Karonga District.
The four are suspected to have stolen malaria test kits, contraceptive equipment and medical drugs such as Lumefantrine Artemether (LA) and Depoprovera vials.
In an interview, Karonga Police Station spokesperson George Mulewa said one of the suspects was found with the drugs at Songwe Border, where, after being quizzed, he indicated that he had acquired the drugs and assorted medical items from a healthcare worker of Wiliro Health Centre.
Mulewa added that the arrest was made a few days after they apprehended the suspected officers at Mlare Health Centre — the facility’s in-charge and pharmacist in connection with drug theft.
The arrests come barely a week after Karonga District Drug and Therapeutic Committee (TDC) reported that medical drugs and other supplies were missing from Mlare Health Centre.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe commended people that reported the cases, saying drug theft requires a multi-sectoral approach.
Chikumbe added that the ministry was hopeful that justice would prevail on the matter to deter would-be offenders as many cases take a long time to be concluded.
“The ministry alone cannot curb drug theft and, when suspects get arrested, we feel happy. As such, we urge people to report to the authorities when they see such things happening. We are only hoping that justice will prevail when these people are tried by the courts,” Chikumbe said.
Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director George Jobe decried rising cases of drug and medical equipment theft.
Jobe said, due to the malpractice, a lot of patients end up being sent to buy drugs from private pharmacies and, yet, the drugs are supposed to be given free-of-charge in public healthcare facilities.
“We are in a period when we are experiencing medical equipment shortage and it’s very unfortunate that these things continue to happen and it is our appeal that these people should be given custodial sentences because they are depriving other people of the right to access to drugs,” he said.
The four are answering charges of being found in possession of drugs and medical equipment without a licence and theft by public servant, respectively.
Malawi is reeling from the problem of drug shortages despite the government announcing, early this year, that it would support the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) with K12.5 billion to replenish the stocks.
On Tuesday, CMST indicated that it was struggling to bring drugs into the country due to forex availability challenges.