HUMAN Rights Commission (HRC) chairperson Mudford Mwandenga says government has failed in its obligation to respect the right to life and health by authorising the procurement and distribution of substandard health products to the public.

And Mwandenga says government should compensate all victims who consumed the expired drugs, defective condoms and gloves.

In a statement, Thursday, Mwandenga said it was a serious indictment on the part of government to distribute expired drugs and defective condoms and gloves.

“The Human Rights Commission is deeply disturbed by recent revelations arising from the Auditor General’s report and further scrutiny by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee that defective condoms, as well as gloves were distributed to the general public and have been in circulation since September, 2020. This revelation is a serious indictment on the part of the State and greatly undermines its obligation to ensure that every citizen enjoys the highest attainable standard of health. The right to health is a fundamental human right and an important part of the right to life, which has been recognised or articulated in many international human rights treaties, which Zambia has ratified, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social Cultural Rights (ICESCR),” Mwandenga stated.

“The implications of violating the right to health are far-reaching for individuals and groups, particularly in vulnerable situations, such as women, adolescents, persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV/AIDS, who often face significant barriers to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health due to discrimination, among other factors. Therefore, the full realisation of the right to health imposes three core obligations on the State, which are: the obligation to respect – this requires states to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the right to health. In this regard, it is the considered view of the Commission that government failed in its obligation to respect the right to health by allowing the procurement and distribution of substandard condoms and gloves to the public; the obligation to protect – this requires states to ensure that private actors conform with human rights standards when providing health care or related services.”

And Mwandenga urged government to compensate all victims who consumed the expired drugs and defective condoms and gloves.

“With regard to the current case of Honeybee Pharmacy, there was an omission on the part of government in enforcing laws and regulations that protect citizens from being supplied with substandard health commodities, which violate their enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health; the obligation to fulfil – this requires states to adopt appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, and other measure to fully realise the right health. It was expected that the State, through its agencies, including the Ministry Health, Medical Stores Limited and Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA), should have taken measures to effectively regulate the procurement and distribution of quality health commodities to the public. The distribution of defective condoms and gloves has great potential to negatively impact on the enjoyment of the right to health, particularly efforts aimed at fighting the AIDS pandemic. There is a huge risk that some people could have contracted HIV/AIDS on account of using such defective medical supplies. The Commission calls on government to ensure that all those who played a role in facilitating the procurement, supply and distribution of unsafe drugs and medical supplies to the public should be held to account. Government should also put in place a strict accountability mechanism and curb corruption in the procurement of medical supplies,” stated Mwandenga.

“This is because corruption is leads to human rights violation. It severely deprives the State of capacity to meet its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil all the human rights of its citizenry. The Commission is aware that the Anti-Corruption Commission is already carrying out investigations into the matter, which have reached an advanced stage. The Commission wishes to call upon the public to allow for lawfully mandated institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission to carry out their mandate effectively. Further, it is unfortunate that unsafe drugs and medical kits were allowed to be distributed to the public despite failing the quality test and the authorities failed to act proactively to remove them from circulation in order to protect the citizens’ rights to health and life. Although psychological and other harm have already been occasioned, it is important that the drugs and defective medical kits are immediately withdrawn from market and should be destroyed forthwith. The Commission is calling upon government to ensure that there is effective tracing of, and support to the victims in order to avoid putting their health and that of other people at any further risk. Over and above, there should be adequate reparations for all victims.”