We seem to have a very serious problem of corruption in the Ministry of Health.
This a ministry that reeking with corruption in every pore. Corruption is at every level in this ministry. This is a ministry in which even ministers are not ashamed to ask for bribes from suppliers of medicines just to be paid their money. It’s also a ministry that is suffering from the epidemic of disappearing medicines. This ministry seems to have a crippling accountability problem.
The arrival of millions of dollars worth of donated HIV drugs should have been fantastic news for the 1.2 million Zambians living with HIV. The drugs were meant to be handed out free in government clinics, helping those who couldn’t afford them. But that’s not what happened. Instead, a huge part of these drugs have been stolen, taken to some other country, “diverted” from free government clinics to be sold in street markets and for-profit pharmacies – to be priced way out of reach of most Zambians.
Drug theft or diversion is a very serious public health risk and the government has a duty to monitor, investigate and help minimise this risk.
And now, the Global Fund has resolved to recover US $1,064,788 from our Ministry of Health which was stolen in form of Anti-Retro Virals (ARVs), HIV test kits, malaria and other drugs. This is according to an investigation report released on April 26 and titled “Investigation of Global Fund Grants to the Republic of Zambia: Theft of health products from Medical Stores Limited”. This report revealed that the drugs and HIV test kits were stolen from Medical Stores Limited (MSL) between 2014 and 2016 and sold to other entities. “In October, 2016 and in April, 2017, the Global Fund secretariat notified the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that they had been informed by Medical Stores Limited (MSL), a government distributor of health products that HIV test kits, funded by other donors, had been stolen from their warehouse. The OIG also received information that a non-governmental organisation (NGO) had bought HIV test kits in the capital, Lusaka, including some financed by the Global Fund that had been originally delivered to MSL. The ensuing OIG investigation determined that Global Fund-financed health products totalling US $1.06M could not be accounted for. Evidence suggests that these products were stolen over a two-year period, between 2014 and 2016. This issue of theft of products from MSL is currently being investigated by the Zambian authorities…The Global Fund secretariat and the OIG have agreed on specific actions, which are detailed in Section 5 of this report, and include: Recovering an appropriate amount from the Principal Recipient – Zambia’s Ministry of Health, based on the findings of this report, MSL’s implementation of all stock count control procedures, MSL, through the Principal Recipient, reporting to the Global Fund any negative stock discrepancies and the results of investigations into those discrepancies,” read the report.
It is evident that the theft of drugs is a threat to our people’s health.
Theft of drugs and substances is illegal. It is also illegal for a person to possess or supply to another person, any prescription drug unless specifically permitted by law.
A person in charge of such drugs who negligently or knowingly allows such drugs to be stolen may be considered an accomplice, and themselves at risk of prosecution and penalty.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Every year, donated drugs and even equipment are stolen, similarly diverted from their intended, needy recipients into the hands of profit-driven distributors. What’s most incredible about this, however, is that most of these drugs come from one of the world’s most respected public-health donors, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Theft of medicines is a problem that affects all institutions investing in health services, and it must be clamped down. All must come together and try to end these thefts.
No single institution can act on its own. They can only solve this challenge if they all work together.
The Global Fund has always had the power to oversee the distribution of its funds, but it has chronically failed to act on that responsibility. We hope this time they will.
When the international health community, backed by the G-8 leaders and the United Nations, established the Global Fund in 2002, it was widely heralded as a new leader in solving some of the world’s most pressing public health problems. The model was simple: Rather than individual wealthy countries buying commodities like drugs or bed nets on an ad hoc basis, the Global Fund would serve as a clearing house, ensuring that funds were distributed according to needs and preventing overlap and inefficiencies.
Yet, however commendable the Global Fund’s aim, its accountability standards don’t nearly measure up to its hefty budget and vast influence. Recipient governments are responsible for managing the funds they receive, and often their local institutions are simply not up to the job.
Unfortunately, this case is not the first one. In 2010,the Global Fund stopped giving funds to the Ministry of Health , preferring instead to work with the more transparent UNDP.
Unsurprisingly, crooked elements are now gaining greater control over the medicinal distribution system in Zambia. In short, this is a huge and growing problem. Yet the Global Fund grant system continues unchanged and unaffected by the evident corruption. Currently, they only temporarily cut the flow of funds from Geneva before again turning the funding tap back on.
This is a problem that requires not bureaucratic hand-wringing, but the attention of an international criminal justice organisation like Interpol.