Drug theft scandal at Kafue hospital leaves chaotic aftermath, puts patients at risk

Chaos has rocked Kafue General Hospital since a medicine theft scandal was exposed in June this year, in which the hospital medical superintendent and other laboratory managers instructed junior officers to manipulate stocks and cover up theft of HIV test kits.

The managers accused of stealing and covering up the theft of medical supplies have neither been suspended nor fired, but have continued to work at the institution while those who were suspected of blowing the whistle have been put on forced transfer.

Meanwhile, in the last two weeks, Kafue General Hospital has been operating with dysfunctional lab equipment which has been giving false test results and putting patients at risk, a situation which management is aware of but has allowed to continue.

In June, News Diggers published audio recordings in which Kafue General Hospital (KGH) medical superintendent, a Dr Mapani, KGH laboratory in charge Mandona Chungu, her former deputy Judy Mwanza and senior laboratory technician Peter Zulu were heard instructing their juniors to fill in back-dated stock control cards and scratch them to make them look old so that the audit can go smoothly.

They were heard warning that, should the audit reflect the missing laboratory commodities, they would all be charged to pay for the very expensive medical kits for up to five years.

According to impeccable sources, hospital management intentionally subjected the laboratory to high temperatures without air conditioning, thereby rendering the equipment faulty and unable to produce accurate test results; a move that was seen as a trap to implicate the lab technicians who had been at loggerheads with management over the theft scandal.

“Since you people wrote that story about theft of drugs at the district hospital, it has been chaotic. At first, it seemed something positive would happen because the auditors came back and they interviewed everyone individually, trying to get to the bottom of the whole thing. But after that died down, those who were in the forefront forcing people to manipulate entries to fool auditors started threatening those they suspected of leaking information with transfers. Right now, some people have just received transfer letters to rural health centres within the district,” the sources said.

The sources observed that the transfers were not done in a procedural manner.

“When you look at the letters, they were written on the 9th of October but this is when they have been handed out (November 6). Another thing is that the letters were signed by the district office, instead of the provincial office. Those who were in the forefront trying to make people do wrong things, Judith Mwanza and Mandona Chungu, are the ones who have pushed for those transfers as they are running the affairs of the lab from district health office illegally. They were not officially transferred to go to that office but they found themselves there to push for that so that they can protect their interests and bring in puppets who won’t question when drugs and test kits go missing,” the sources said.

And the sources narrated that management intentionally stopped maintaining the laboratory in a bid to trap the workers.

“All this time, they were just keeping the letters, probably hoping to dismiss us if we made a mistake. They tried to trap us by completely abandoning the lab, management stopped maintaining it so the air con became faulty and temperatures got too high and the machines stopped working effectively. We could not give out any results from the lab because you’d find that the same sample, you will get three positive results and two negative results, so which one do you give to the patient?” wondered the sources.

“We went to the acting medical superintendent and complained that we are unable to run any tests because we were getting false results. When we told Dr [Hubby] Makukula that, he just said ‘go ahead, I will protect you’. He just said the department should go ahead and produce wrong results and he will protect us but we resisted because we took an oath to save the lives of people. How could we tell people who were HIV negative that they were HIV positive knowing fully well that the results were not credible? The machines were literally writing that the temperature is too high. Those tests we run require a certain kind of temperature to produce correct results.”

The sources added: “In hindsight, what they were trying to do is to pin us down so that if we produce wrong results, they could dismiss us and say we are incompetent. The medical superintendent would tell us, ‘we will pin you, you thought your teeth were sharp enough’. That’s Dr Hubby Mukukula who was saying that, he is acting medical superintendent. We insisted that it was better to make referrals if the air con remained faulty. Dr Makukula would tell us, even in front of student nurses, that ‘I don’t care if the results are correct or not, you must produce them’,” said the sources.

“We told them that the machines, some of them the temperature maximum is supposed to be 18 degrees, cold freezing. Then the temperatures, where we are supposed to work from with different test kits, the maximum you can work is about 27 degrees but the room temperature was about 39 degrees. And even the fridge where we put blood, the fridge should go up to eight, that is the maximum, between two to eight but it was going up to about 9.5. And we said if we transfuse this blood into this patient, this blood will react. It was such a mess. This had been going on for two weeks and instead of giving people wrong results, we would get samples in the morning, and take them to some health centres to run tests and only bring back results in the afternoon. And also those health centres have limited reagents so we couldn’t manage to run tests for all the patients.”

The sources narrated that Dr Makukula would openly threaten lab technicians saying, “We can send you to a remote area, you are a small fish in a pond.”

Efforts to get a response from Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Dr Kennedy Malama and spokesperson Dr Maxmillian Bweupe failed as their phones went unanswered.

Meanwhile, Dr Makukula’s phone was off and he was therefore unable to respond to queries by press time.

         

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