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United States still concerned over diverted medicines

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The United States Embassy in Malawi says even though the Malawi government has shown willingness to combat drug theft, a lot needs to be done to stop misuse of Malawi and US taxpayer’s money.

Public Affairs Officer for the Embassy, Edward Monster said this in response to the Global Fund’s announcement of the extension of “I speak Out Now” campaign, aimed at curbing drug theft from public health facilities through reporting, using a toll free line.

“As a leading donor of Malaria treatment and other drugs in Malawi, the US Government remains very 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,” he said, admitting that the Embassy is encouraged by Malawi’s commitment to increased accountability.

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Monster added: “We continue to call on the Government of Malawi to revise the Medicines and Pharmacies Act to make penalties for drug theft serious enough to deter the crime.”

He further urged Capital Hill to take prompt action against government employees involved in such acts, and where appropriate, refer them to law enforcement for prosecution.

“This kind of accountability is essential to make Public Service Reform real and Malawi strong and prosperous,” Monster added.

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The Global Fund’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced its extension of the “I Speak Out Now!” campaign to December this year, after noting that the public had responded well in the provision of information on drug theft at public health facilities.

This has come amid recent revelations that drugs worth K1.5 billion were stolen from public health facilities in the past year.

A Global Fund Investigation report titled: Proactive investigation into the Anti-Malarial product theft from public health facilities in Malawi released on August 17, 2017 observes that the public has helped a lot in reporting drug theft through the toll fre lines established under “I Speak Out Now” and USAID’s “Make a Difference” campaigns.

It says the availability of stolen artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs) in the private retail sector is symptomatic.

But, the report notes that not all root causes are known, since the issue is widespread and complex.

The report says between April 2016 to April 2017, 117 reports were received (through toll free lines) of which 62 relate to theft of ACTs from public health system. Sixteen of those were public health workers who were subsequently prosecuted for theft of medicines. Three have been convicted to date.

“I Speak Out Now!” campaign was launched in April 2016 in partnership with a USAID OIG campaign called “Make a Difference”, which also targeted drug theft. The campaigns have actively promoted reporting hotline owned by the Malawi Pharmacy Medicines and Poisons Board (PMPB).

The PMPB has investigated 57 of the hotline reports, resulting in 12 prosecutions with fines of up to $273.

Health rights activists have expressed an interest to continue having this hotline beyond December 2017.

Director for Health and Rights Education Programme, Maziko Matemba said there is need to utilize the toll free line to assist in sealing all the loopholes in the drug supply chain.

“There are reports that show that 95 percent of drugs are stolen at health facility level, and five percent at Central Medical Stores. We need to do more at health facility level through strengthening community based structures such as Community Based Organisations in order to win this battle,” he said.

Executive Director for Malawi Health Equity Network, George Jobe said the extension of the campaign is good news to Malawi’s social accountability efforts.

“The initiative needs to be maintained for a long period of time. We wish it included quality so that we receive real time information across the country whenever patients have been mistreated,” he said.

The Global Fund has been a partner in Malawi since 2003, and to date the Global Fund has disbursed over US$975 million towards HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and combined TB/ HIV programs.

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