Columnists Features

Drug pilferage denies patients access to free, quality medication

TWENTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD Annety Kalenga, could not hold her tears at Chifubu police station when she was being led to the holding cell with a six-month-old baby girl in her hands.
Her fears were no doubt that she did not want her toddler to go into the stench-chocking cells which emanated from a blocked toilet.
One would think the police was inhumane to detain a woman with a baby who was breastfeeding even tough though it was the mother to blame.
The mother was arrested for allegedly selling in drugs that are suspected to be illegally obtained from Government.
Ms Kalenga expressed ignorance that she did not understand the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) labels which were on the medicines she was selling in her drug stole.
“I have been seeing GRZ on boxes and even where it is written ‘not for retail’ but since I am illiterate, I could not understand what it means, I cannot disclose the person who brings these medicines to me because I just meet him once a while but all I know is that he has some connections with people who work at the government hospitals,” Ms Kalenga said.
Ms Kalenga is among other people on the Copperbelt who were arrested for allegedly trading in medicines believed to be property of Government.
Some of the Government drugs which were on the market include, anti-malarial medicines also known as Coartem, panadol, and microgynon contraceptives and other items like under-five cards, syringes and insulin.
The National Task Force on drug pilferage conducted an operation in five districts on the Copperbelt last week during which a number of those suspected to be dealing in the sale of Government drugs were netted.
The Ministry of Health is leading the team which is composed of State Police, Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority and the Drug Enforcement Commission.
The operations resulted in the arrest of Salom Umbu, 59 of the Democratic Republic of Congo who was allegedly found in possession of 29 boxes Coartem suspected to be property of the Zambian government.
Others who were arrested were, Eliah Mhango, 48, of house No. KE 5551 Kameza area in Chililabombwe, Yvonne Mwila and Elizabeth Musonda 37 of Chifubu Ndola.
And 62-year-old Paul Chitalu of Kitwe whose wife is a former nurse was also found with more than 10 boxes of microgynon contraceptives.
It has for a long time been suspected that there are channels through which Government drugs find their way onto the market, thus the composition of the task force which has been on the move.
Though the issue of illegal drugs has been widely condemned it has not spared the young and innocent girls who have been employed as workers in the drug stores.
Ministry of Health deputy director pharmaceutical services Chikuta Mbewe said the objective of the operations on the Copperbelt is to breakup existing networks pilfering public health commodities and recover government medicines that have been diverted from health institutions.
For the most part, Government shoulders for shortages of drugs in its health institutions even when there and active supply lines and no shortages at Medical Stores.
“The operation has been very successful as we have seized medicines that belong to public health system and also arrested several vendors in all the districts where we conducted the exercise,” Mr Mbewe said.
He warned that Government will take appropriate punitive action towards people diverting drugs from public health institutions especially if the case involves health personnel.
In trying to strengthen the supply chain, Government is putting in place measures to increase destination checks to ensure drugs reach the intended recipients.
Mr Mbewe said drug pilferage is unacceptable as it denies patients the right to free and quality medication.
While Government spends huge resources to procure medicines, it is sad to note that some of the drugs are allegedly diverted by some who are seeking material gain at the expense of those who are sick.
It is time Government resorted to tough methods to stem the pilferage of drugs from its health institutions.
“At the centre of these crimes are individuals who are part of our government system. Government will not relent to bring to book such culprits and there are adequate provisions under the penal code to deal with such issues,” he said.
The effective application of the law, however, calls for a stronger co-ordination and collaboration between various organs of government.
In its quest to make the public aware of the scum, Government has prioritised public awareness campaigns on the dangers of diverting its drugs and other items.
There is also a recognition that Government can only succeed if its forges links with other institutions. In this regard, it intends to partner with the community to increase participation in the running of efficient health services.
“This is a war that can only be won if communities become part of the solution. People should also know that expired drugs are dangerous for human consumption, manufactures of drugs cannot guarantee quality of a product after an expiry date. It becomes absolutely necessary for the public to identify expired drugs by looking out for an expiry date that is on the product,” he said.

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