ARV thieves are top govt officials

By nature, criminals are very defensive. They try to portray a very innocent public image but what they do in the cover of night is devastating to the very society they pretend to serve. The character of the people who are in charge of providing us with good health in this country is disheartening. From top to bottom, the Ministry of Health is rotten and ravaged by criminal activities.

The rottenness of the ministry is in the evidence brought out by a private investigation which has unearthed a scam in which drugs worth over K10 million were stolen from Medical Stores Limited and sold to other entities in the country and outside.

These are not just ordinary drugs like contraceptives or deworming pills, which you would understand if these criminals in government said they had run out of supplies in their houses. What they have been stealing are essential life-saving drugs like ARVs, malaria and HIV test kits.

“The investigation shows 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,” read the report.

“The losses comprised: EF5,790 HIV test kits; 67,967 bottles of antiretrovirals (ARVs); 11,442 artemisinin-based combination therapy packs (ACTs) and 2,521 malaria rapid diagnostic test kits. The investigation found that stock quantities recorded in MSL’s electronic warehouse management system were negatively adjusted to reflect missing stock identified during annual stock takes. MSL staff could not explain the stock.”

It is very important to note that no one broke into Medical Stores to steal. Those ARVs were not stolen by the cleaners or the drivers, the thief is a high ranking government official who has high level access clearance, in collusion with warehouse staff at Medical Stores. That is why they were able to manipulate the system to reflect the existence of drugs which they had, in fact stolen.

It is easy to know that the criminals are high ranking because we have not heard the ministry hold a press conference to express concern about the missing drugs at Medical Stores. In fact, what the Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya told us recently was that he had signed an agreement with the European Union for funding worth €4.8 million to expand the storage building. The theft of drugs was not reported to the public at that press conference; instead, the citizens were being fooled into believing that their government cared so much and it was expanding the storage capacity for medicines.

We have observed as a newspaper organisation that for a very peculiar reason, the Minister of Health and his top ministry officials are not willing to talk about the drug scandals, be it procurement corruption or actual theft of essential medicines.

Before the Global Fund brought out this ARV theft scandal, our newspaper published another exposé in December 2017 in which the Ministry of Health was implicated. The Zambia Pharmaceuticals Business Forum (ZPBF) raised a red flag against the ministry for exclusively awarding tenders for the supply of drugs to companies of personal interests, against the public procurement guidelines.

They demanded that the Health Permanent Secretary cancels tender number MoH/SP/016/17, among others, which was not subjected to open and inclusive bidding, and also because some members of the evaluation committee at the ministry had some relationships with drug suppliers. This was not done.

A whistleblower also narrated to News Diggers! how Medical Stores Limited had engaged a named Chinese company situated along Cha-cha-cha Road to supply drugs, which did not go through quality checks as per standard requirement. But when we brought this matter to the attention of the Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya and his Permanent Secretary Dr Kennedy Malama, they didn’t care to give an explanation.

In fact, the publication of the said story angered them to the point of accusing our reporter or misrepresenting their reaction. They did not accuse us of forging the documents we had, but they claimed that we did not give them a proper opportunity to respond. We followed the Permanent Secretary to his office because we were very concerned with the illegalities at Medical Stores, but he walked out of a scheduled meeting saying he had a more important meeting to attend.

Although we left without picking a fight with him, Dr Malama made us feel very irrelevant and undeserving of an audience with him. But we knew that his arrogance, together with that of his minister was going to boomerang when what we know starts to get to the public. Today, their faces are engrossed in shame! It is not ‘irrelevant’ News Diggers alleging theft and corruption under their watch, but the owners of the money. They have facts and they want justice.

Here is why we are angry with the thieves in the Ministry of Health. The Global Fund has vowed to recover their US$1 million dollars stolen from Medical Stores Limited. These criminals who sold the drugs have built luxury houses which will not be touched in the recovery process. When a refund is made to the Global Fund, it will be taken from the taxpayer’s money.

Firstly, the Zambian citizens who are living positively were denied free ARVs because a bunch of criminals at the Ministry of Health stole the drugs. And now, the government will come back to the same patients to claim taxes so that they can refund the Global Fund. So, if this government is not deliberately importing expired drugs, they are stealing them from stock. How heartless can a leadership be?

We need to send a very clear message to the Minister of Health and his Permanent Secretary. Dear brothers, you are not sitting properly in that ministry. A lot of criminality is taking place under your watch. This Medical Stores exposé is just a tip of the iceberg. The corruption that is going on in your ministry is not as hidden as you might think, and it’s just a matter of time before we give the people of Zambia the full story.

         

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