Court holds medical drugs for 11 yrs

Government has lost K265 million worth of medical drugs tendered in court as an exhibit 11 years ago.

The truckload, which is enough to supply a district hospital for a year, is yet to be released by the courts, according to Ministry of Health (MoH) source.

Stolen drugs such as these expire in the hands of the courts

The MoH source said the medical drugs have expired and the truck in which they are contained, belonging to the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST), is in “unusable state”.

The consignment was at the centre of one of the biggest medical drug theft in the country involving Blantyre-based businessperson Bashir Hassan Goba.

Goba and his five accomplices were arrested in March 2006 for being found in possession of goods suspected to have been stolen and failing to account for the same and operating a wholesale pharmacy without permit.

In May 2006, Goba was convicted by the Limbe Dalton Road Magistrate’s Court and fined K5 million or in default to serve five years in prison.

However, the drugs were forgotten by the courts which had been sealed then in the CMST truck. The development meant, CMST could not use the drugs or truck for the past 11 years.

Deputy Registrar of the High Court Agnes Patemba said Tuesday the Goba case was divided into two—one   handled by senior resident magisrate Kingsley Mlungu of Dalton Magistrate’s Court and another handled at Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court.

She said in the case of operating an illegal pharmacy, magistrate Mlungu convicted Goba, but the one of possession of stolen drugs was transferred to Lilongwe and was not concluded; hence, the drugs were held and sealed in the CMST truck.

“As such, it is the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] who can explain how the drugs are being handled.”

DPP Mary Kachale told Weekend Nation in an e-mailed response that the case of possession of stolen drugs was discovered this year that it was never concluded.

Said Kachale:“ This case is one of the backlog cases that have been identified as existing in the directorate and steps are being taken to determine the appropriate way forward.

“The DPP office is fully committed to ensuring that theft of drugs is brought to an end through timely and efficient prosecution of cases of theft of drugs.”

However, the DPP was quick to say that “a decision will be made as soon as practically possible” on the case.

“Before the year ends we would have made a decision [about the case],” she assured.

The DPP also confirmed having received a request from CMST to destroy the drugs as they have overstayed and are a hazard to both people and the environment.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday Principal Secretary for Health Dan Namarika expressed ignorance of the existence of the expired medical drugs, but promised to investigate the matter.

Health rights activist Maziko Matemba has since demanded efficiency from all stakeholders to ensure that such losses do not happen again.

“This case exposes lack of resolve in ensuring that cases of drug theft are dealt with as a matter of urgency. Drugs are a special item and the courts ought to treat it as such.

“Even during the Cashgate cases, there were exceptions. Similarly, stakeholders in this case should have asked the court to expedite the case. Otherwise, we have lost the drugs worth millions of kwacha which would have otherwise been saved,” he said.

The medical drugs in question were discovered in March 2006 when police in Blantyre seized eight Land Rover loads of drugs and hospital equipment belonging to CMST.

Some of the drugs and equipment were ampicillin, bruffen, ARVs, gloves, syringes, PoP bandages, weighing scales, wheelchairs and x-ray developers, believed to have been stolen from Mulanje and Chiradzulu district hospitals.

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