The Ministry of Health (MoH) says about K1.5 billion worth of drugs have been stolen at various levels in the public health sector in the past year.
MoH Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namarika told the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament last week that the health sector continued to lose money through theft of drugs and medical supplies.
In the 2016/17 financial year that ended on June 30, Parliament approved a drug budget worth K17.2 billion of which K10.2 billion was for district hospitals and health centres and K7.2 billion for central hospitals.
Government established a Drug Theft Investigations Unit which has been investigating drug procurement and inventory systems in health centres and district hospitals.
Last year alone, 125 people were arrested in connection with drug theft of which 64 cases are in court while 30 have been convicted, according to Namarika.
However, he decried the penalties meted out to the culprits, saying they are not deterrent enough due to the weaknesses in the law.
Said Namarika: “Reducing drug pilferage to zero may not be possible, but we are in the process of reviewing the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Act to be tabled either in November or the subsequent Parliament meetings.”
He said the penalties under the current laws were very small and monetary penalties were not deterring drug theft.
“They are stealing millions of kwacha then charging them K1 million does not deter them. There may be need to look at imprisonment or plea bargain as one way of reducing levels of drug losses,” said Namarika.
End to end tracking from the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) warehouses to the user at a health institution is another measure that MoH is considering, he said.
Said Namarika: “We think there is an opportunity here if we can develop the national registration system and track the citizens that have used drugs.
“We are also looking to learn lessons from the fight against wildlife crime which has been successful as well as tip-offs anonymous to be giving rewards to those who report incidences of drug theft.”
In collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USaid) and Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids, government has put in place a tip-offs hotline, 800 00 847 from land lines and 847 from mobile networks, to curb theft of malaria drugs.
In May last year, a report titled Assessment of Drugs and Medical Supplies Leakages from Medical Stores and Public Health Facilities commissioned by MoH showed that a third of drug stocks in public hospitals were being lost through pilferage almost 10 years after the ministry suggested measures to curb theft.
Former Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume said K5 billion worth of drugs and medical supplies out of a MoH drug budget of K17 billion were stolen in the 2015/16 financial year. n