MINISTER of Health Dr Jonas Chanda says the expiry of drugs in storage is unacceptable because the government spends a lot of money on them. He questioned how large quantities of drugs were expiring at the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supply Agency (formerly Medical Stores Limited) when health facilities were experiencing drug shortages.

“This is wastage to the country because the country spends a lot of money buying drugs that will never be used in the facilities. They expire then we start now throwing them away when we have spent millions of kwacha, even dollars. This is totally unacceptable. It’s a bad wastage of resources because when I tour hospitals, one of the major issues is [that] there are no drugs. But very important products are expiring here, life-saving, chloramphenicol suspension, very important antibiotic, yet it’s expiring here at Medical Stores when it’s supposed to have been used somewhere at a facility. When was the expiry date for this? So 2017, this is which year? So 2017 to 2021, is how many years? Four years. Now four years we are still dealing with things that expired four years ago because a child born four years ago are they still breastfeeding? So this is what we are allowing. Let me tell you, the real danger, apart from the incompetence in procurement and keeping those things expired, the money that government is wasting and the denial of services to the patient, the real danger is that with the corruption that is rampant in some of our people who are pilfering drugs, they will come and get this same expired thing, it will find itself in a private pharmacy somewhere and unsuspecting Zambians are going to buy this when it expired four years ago, you are keeping it here,” said Dr Chanda.

This revelation that government has been procuring drugs with a very short shelf time is enough scandal for someone in the system to not only lose a job, but also face prosecution. We are saying this because this is not the first time that this is happening, it’s systematic. In March 2019, another scandal was revealed where the government procured a toxic Chinese-manufactured drug, supplied it to hospitals across the country and did not recall it until patients started vomiting. This is a serious indication of complete incompetence and negligence of duty by a group of government leaders.

And the Ministry of Health should not point fingers at Medical Stores for having these large quantities of expired drugs. If the minister finds this to be a consequence of the procurement team buying cheap drugs with a short shelf life, he must remember that procurement was done at his ministry for all the drugs that are at Medical Stores (or ZAMMSA as they now call it). He must demand to know who authorized the procurement of those drugs. If they are still sitting in their offices, those are the enemies of progress and they must be kicked out.

These people who have been procuring drugs on behalf of the government have been exercising utmost negligence. Instead of finding reputable manufacturers of drugs and getting drugs which have the recommended shelf life, they go for the cheapest consignments of drugs which are about to expire. To them it doesn’t matter whether those medicines expire while at Medical Stores or as they are administered to patients. As long as the procurement was done and the cartons of drugs are there, the rest is not their problem. They deliberately target cheap, soon to expire drugs so that they can keep change.

Sadly, as Dr Chanda rightly put it, the criminals in government don’t just stop at procuring expiring drugs, when an opportunity presents itself, they steal the same expired drugs and supply them to the chemists in the compound. This is murder now, this is why we have a lot of unexplained illnesses among our people because some of them are induced by the intake of expired, toxic drugs.

A lot of people have not been doing their jobs at the Ministry of Health and we are happy that this new minister seems determined to shake things up. These scandals are too much at the Ministry of Health and it’s time heads rolled!

Last year, we reported about all these illegalities in the drug supply at the Ministry of Health, and we remember being blasted for ‘rumour mongering’ by the former Minister and his Permanent Secretary. We further revealed the Ministry had been awarding supply contracts to companies of interest. But instead of correcting the wrongs we were pointing out, they focused on trying to shut us up. This is what has brought us here.

Let’s not make jokes with people’s lives. In many low-income countries, like Zambia, the government’s budget for the health sector is too small to finance the national health system adequately. Poor people cannot afford even essential medicines. So to see all these drugs go to waste when hospitals don’t have medicines is really a crime against humanity.