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MoH establishes drug theft investigations unit

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Ministry of Health has admitted that drug theft is rampant in its facilities and it will deal with it through its newly established drug theft investigations unit.

“Stories of drug theft in our facilities are all over and they are not fake, they are real. The problem has been within our system and we need to deal with it right here. We have been blaming wrong people (buyers) when it’s our staff selling the drugs to them,” Ministry of Health’s Head of Policy Dominic Nkhoma said Wednesday.

He added: “We have this unit so that we protect the drugs from getting out of the facility. We have realised that we waste lots of resources to investigate private pharmacies and others yet after confiscating the drugs we don’t use them but rather destroy them.”

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According to Nkhoma, the staff that will be working there are from the ministry’s auditing department which will be beefed up by police officers. It will also be working together with fiscal police and pharmacies, poisons and medicines board.

The unit, which started its operations in February, has already investigated 15 health centres.

“It’s a continuous process and we are yet to come up with a report on them as they are all given 14 days to respond to what is contained in preliminary reports,” he said.

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In December last year minister of health, Peter Kumpalume told our sister paper Malawi News that a third of medicines in the public health system go missing resulting in the loss of K5 billion every year. He blamed pharmacists for perpetuating the malpractice.

The newspaper also reported that drugs from the countries’ health facilities which are administered to patients for free; including Antiretroviral (ARVs) are stolen and sold in South Africa.

On April 7 this year, the office of the Inspector General of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the United States Government, through the US Agency for International Development (Usaid) office of inspector general and the US President’s Malaria Initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, launched of two campaigns to fight drug theft in Malawi.

The Global Fund campaign, “I Speak Out Now!” and the Usaid campaign “Make a Difference” (MAD) will use one hotline as a call to action to encourage Malawians to speak out about drug theft or abuse.

A statement on US embassy in Malawi website says the MAD campaign will offer cash rewards of up to thousands of dollars for usable information leading to a conviction concerning the illegal theft, transport, possession, and sale of stolen anti-malaria medication and other commodities, such as bed nets in Malawi.

The US Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer said, as a leading donor of malaria treatment drugs in Malawi, the US government is extremely concerned about any diversion of donated medicines that are meant to be freely prescribed to the people of Malawi.

“Drug theft has to stop and the public needs to play a key role in identifying it, reporting it, and holding the people responsible accountable. The ‘Make a Difference’ hotline is a new opportunity for the Malawian public to do just that. And we applaud ongoing efforts by the Malawian Ministry of Health to deter and stop drug theft depriving its citizens of life-saving medications,” she said at the launch as quoted on the website.

The Global Fund Inspector General, Mouhamadou Diagne said The Global Fund has zero tolerance to wrongdoing and is committed to ensuring that its investments are used in the best way.

“When people steal medicines, it’s a child, a parent or a sibling that might die of malaria. We encourage all Malawians to speak out now to stop drug pilferage and claim the free drugs that are their fundamental human right,” he said

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