Malawi risks losing aid in the health sector if government does not demonstrate seriousness to seal loopholes facilitating drug pilferage in the public sector, United States of America (USA) and United Kingdom (UK) have warned.
The warning comes against the background of Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume disclosing in January this year that about K5 billion worth of drugs and medical supplies or a third of the drug budget is stolen from public health facilities annually.
Nearly 90 percent of Malawi’s drug budget has, over the years, been funded by donors; hence, any withdrawal by donors could be catastrophic.
United States Agency for International Development (USAid) Malawi mission director Doug Arbuckle said yesterday Malawi is under scrutiny to improve the management of drugs in public health facilities.
He said: “Malawi is now under a great deal of scrutiny. It needs to demonstrate a greater accountability for managing life-saving medicines. Without a strong commitment to do so, support from our two governments [UK and USA] as well as those of other donors could very well be shifted elsewhere.”
Doug said this in a statement USAid jointly released with UKaid in Lilongwe at the launch of a project to construct 115 prefabricated drug storage facilities to be installed in public health facilities nationwide.
The two countries officially handed over a prefabricated drug storage facility at Chitedze Health Centre in Lilongwe.
The statement also quoted British Department for International Development (DfID) head in Malawi, Philip Smith, as having said his government was willing to support Malawi’s health sector as long as there is efficiency.
He said: “These new storage facilities will address the very serious constraint to the availability of quality medicines for the people of Malawi, which puts the lives of millions of poor children and adults at risk.”
In 2014, a USAid assessment found that 77 percent of Malawi’s public health facilities had less than half of their pharmacy storage space required to meet the then prevailing demands.
The situation was projected to worsen with the growing population.
Since 2013, Britain has provided £20 million (about K21 billion) for the procurement, warehousing and distribution of essential medicines for Malawi.
During the function, MoH Principal Secretary Mc Phail Magwira assured the donors that government was taking the fight against drug pilferage in public hospitals seriously and had upped its game.
He said in recent times some health workers have been arrested and prosecuted in connection with drug pilferage. He said some have been dismissed.
Said Magwira: “Government has given us authorisation to use Section 39 of the Employment Act. All along, we have been using the Public Service Act, which does not have much in terms of addressing the drug pilferage challenge in our health facilities.
“Mostly Section 39 of the Employment Act is used in the private sector where an employer can say to an employee that with the kind of behaviour you are displaying this company doesn’t require your services anymore.”
Overall, since 2012, the UK has invested about £100 million pounds (about K103 billion) into Malawi’s health sector.
In 2006, a report on a study into drug pilferage recommended several measures to curb the vice, including ensuring correct, efficient and cost-effective handling and prudent use of drugs within health centres.
The report recommended training of staff to build their capacity.
In an earlier interview, health rights activist Maziko Matemba described the failure by MoH to ensure security of drugs at health facility level as “systematic failure”.
The theft of drugs in public health facilities tallies well with the level of plunder of government resources where an equivalent of 30 percent is looted, according to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).