Theft of drugs slows down war on malaria

Gatonye Gathura | 14 Mar 2012
Daily Nation
The sale of expired medicines and theft of drugs from public hospitals have hampered a government programme to supply subsidised malaria treatment in the country.

A spot-check by the Nation in the city centre and two residential areas of Nairobi in the past two days showed the medicines subsidised through the Global Fund have largely been out of stock since the beginning of the year.

In seven city centre pharmacies the Nation visited on Monday, only one had stocked the subsidised medicines selling at Sh50 per dose while another was selling similar products meant to be given free to patients in public hospitals.

Six of the outlets had stocked less effective medicines that are not recommended for treatment of malaria in Kenya.

A pharmacy attendant in Kasarani said the subsidised medicines had not been available since the beginning of the year but was selling a brand only recommended for malaria prevention and not treatment.

Media campaign

"Since the beginning of the year we have not been able to get supplies of the subsidised medicines despite government-sponsored messages in the media urging people to ask for these drugs from pharmacies," said the attendant.

A sample of the drug AL branded as Coartem for children at a Dandora chemist was being sold at Sh100 but had expired in 2010.

"This is poison and should be destroyed immediately and the retailer prosecuted," said Dr Nathan Mulure of Norvartis, the manufacturers of the product, when shown the sample.

Dr Mulure said it must have been stolen from a government hospital.

"This particular packaging is only made for deliveries to government facilities where the drugs are given out to patients for free," he said.

Coartem, meant for commercial outlets, just like other brands earmarked for the subsidisation programme, has a special logo containing a green leaf with the inscription ACTm at the bottom.

The Nation survey was prompted by a study done by American Enterprise Institute last month.

The study claimed that malaria medicines subsidised by Global Fund for Kenya were being stolen and diverted to other countries such as Ethiopia.

The Nation also established that most pharmacies do not demand that buyers take a malaria test before purchasing the medicines as required.

To make the most effective malaria medicines affordable, at about Sh40 from an average Sh600 in commercial outlets, the government and the Global Fund introduced the Affordable Medicines Facility in 2010 in eight countries.

Pilot project

The pilot project, which ends in July, is being carried out in Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Uganda.

The American Enterprise Institute study published in the MalariaWorld Journal, claims the highest level of theft and diversion of the subsidised medicines within and outside the country was in Nairobi, Lagos and Ghana.

Although sources in the sector concede that thefts and diversion could have contributed to the current stock out of subsidised medicines, there has been some funding delays from the Global Fund.

The head of disease control in the Public Health ministry, Dr Willis Akhwale, said the situation had been rectified and stocks should be coming in.