Massive drug theft hit Malawi public hospitals

Malawi’s public hospitals have been hit by massive theft of drugs which has seen at least K1.5 billion worth of drugs and medical supplies stolen in the 2016/2017 financial budget with 125 people arrested in connection with the malpractice.

The country relies heavily on donor support such as the Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids, for drug supplies in public hospitals.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namalika has disclosed that out of the K17.6 billion drug budget, about K1.5 billion was lost to theft at various levels in the public health sector in the past year leaving the ministry grappling to find the best solution to curb the practice which has seen most public hospitals lacking essential drugs.

Queens hospital

Out of the total budget in the 2016/17 financial year as approved by Parliament approved K10.2 billion was for district hospitals and health centres while K7.2 billion for central hospitals. In the 2015/2016 financial year Parliament approved K17 billion for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies and almost K5 billion worth of drugs and medical supplies were also said to have been stolen.

Namarika said following such massive theft, government established a Drug Theft Investigations Unit which has been investigating drug procurement and inventory systems in health centres and district hospitals, but there has not been much improvement.

He said last year alone, 125 people were arrested in connection with drug theft of which 64 cases are in court while 30 have been convicted.

However, Namarika decried the weaknesses in the law observing that penalties meted out to the culprits are not deterrent enough. He said the penalties, including fines, under the current laws were very small.

“Reducing drug pilferage to zero may not be possible, but we are in the process of reviewing the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Act to be tabled either in November or the subsequent Parliament meetings,” he said.

Added Namarika “They are stealing millions of kwacha but charged K1 million in fines which is not deterrent enough. There may be need to look at imprisonment or plea bargain as one way of reducing levels of drug losses.”

He said another measure which the ministry is considering is end to end tracking from the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) warehouses to the user at health institutions.

“We think there is an opportunity using the national registration system to track the citizens that have used drugs. We are also looking to learn lessons from the fight against wildlife crime which has been successful as well as tip-offs anonymous to be giving rewards to those who report incidences of drug theft,” said Namarika.

Malawi Government, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids, has put in place a tip-offs hotline, (800 00 847 from land lines and 847 from mobile networks), to curb theft of mainly malaria drugs.

A report titled Assessment of Drugs and Medical Supplies Leakages from Medical Stores and Public Health Facilities commissioned by the Ministry of Health showed that a third of drug stocks in public hospitals were being lost through pilferage.

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