Police in the southern Malawi district of Chiradzulu on February 1 this year arrested a pharmacy technician for allegedly forging documents and misappropriating drugs worth K48.7 million at Chiradzulu District Hospital.
The development comes against a background of a drug crisis in Malawi which Minister of Health Catherine Gotani-Hara last week said has seen district and referral hospitals lacking 95 percent of essential drugs.
It also follows the emotional plea by Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) doctors to President Joyce Banda and the public two weeks ago, calling for intervention in the stocking of basic and essential drugs that are currently scarce. And the President on Monday this week met medical doctors and administrators to find a way forward to resolve the crisis.
Chiradzulu Police spokesperson Ralph Makondetsa, in an interview on Tuesday, said the pharmacist, Martin Nyanjagha, has worked at the hospital for about three months. He claimed there are documents indicating purchase of various drugs that were, however, reportedly not delivered to the hospital.
Said Makondetsa: “Police arrested Nyanjagha on February 1 after the district council tipped us off on the misappropriated drugs. There are documents showing that some drugs were procured for the hospital, but they were never delivered.
“The cost of the drugs in total is estimated at K48 709 943.40. Nyanjagha will answer charges of theft by servant and forgery when he appears in court.”
Chiradzulu district commissioner Bennet Nkasala confirmed the development, but said he could not give more details since the case is under police investigations.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali also confirmed that Nyanjagha was involved in the drug scam, but said he was not sure of the value of the drugs.
He said the ministry would not condone theft of drugs because it is a crime regardless of the amount or the value of the medicine.
“As a ministry, we get concerned about this malpractice because it is not acceptable. It is unethical and inhumane. Many deserving patients may have died or even got disabled due to such malpractices and we do not expect this to happen at a time when we are fighting to restock the Central Medical Stores Trust,” said Chimbali.
In 2006, a similar case was reported when one Bashir Hassan Goba and his colleague Anthony Weche were found in possession of drugs meant for public hospitals worth about K50 million.
In 2011, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative Athanase Nzokirishaka blamed shortage of drugs on theft, corruption and inefficiency in the national drug supply chain.
Nzokirishaka is on record as having urged government to come up with proper financing systems and to fully remove inefficiency, leakage and corruption at all levels of the system.
During their meeting with the President in Lilongwe on Monday this week, medical doctors blamed the drug crisis on inadequate funding, long and bureaucratic procurement processes, the centralised health system and use of intermediaries to buy drugs.
The President said there is need to put systems that would check drug theft in hospitals which many participants of the meeting attributed to lenient punishments from courts on those who are caught stealing drugs.