Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume has made a chilling revelation that K5 billion (about $7.6million) worth of medical drugs and supplies are stolen from public hospitals every year.
The minister’s disclosure during a meeting at Nsanje District Health Office (DHO) on Thursday comes against the background of increased reports of drug pilferage, in some cases involving medical professionals, and concerns from donors about the malpractice.
The K5 billion value represents a third of Ministry of Health (MoH) annual drug budget of K17 billion (about $25.9million), according to Kumpalume who warned of stiffer punishment to culprits.
This revelation is consistent with what the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said several years ago that 30 percent of funds in Malawi’s national budget are stolen every year.
Even the unaccounted for K577 billion (about $881.2million) in a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) data analysis report for the five years up to December 2014 was equivalent of a third of what government spent during the reviewed period.
Said the minister: “It is disheartening to note that government is losing a lot of money due to drug theft by the very people government entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the lives of people.
“People who are stealing the medicine are the very medical personnel government employed, which is very bad. This malpractice is refusing the very poor people to get their right to medication.”
He said government has put in place several measures to ensure that perpetrators of the malpractice face justice.
Kumpalume also told medical professionals to abide by their code of conduct or risk interdiction or dismissal.
The drug pilferage has also outraged donors.
In mid-December 2015, some of the country’s donors in the health sector said they were horrified by the extent of drug theft in public hospitals, warning that they were closely monitoring government’s accountability of drugs.
The donors, who included United States Agency for International Development (USaid) and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), threatened to shift support elsewhere if the country failed to rein back drug theft.
The sentiments were expressed during the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with MoH for pre-fabricated pharmacy storage units of 108 health facilities in the country where the donors committed $8.3 million for the initiative.
The MoU sought to enhance drug storage capacity in public health facilities to curb drug theft.
Reacting to the revelatgion, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), one of the civil society organisation (CSO) that embarked on a public health monitoring project, said yesterday losing K5 billion worth of drugs to theft is a sad development which has deprived the poor and vulnerable.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo, speaking in a telephone interview, said the development is an indication that Malawi is morally bankrupt as a country where resources are stolen without considering their actual use and impact consequently leaving people suffering.
“Secondly, it is a huge and serious human rights violation,” he said.
Mtambo added that the behaviour is a criminal behaviour in the first place before becoming a clear violation of the right to health of the people of Malawi.
However, he said the behaviour speaks volumes on the government monitoring systems which he described as porous.n