Minister of Health and Population Atupele Muluzi has said he will table a bill proposing new legislation to provide for stiffer sentences for cases of theft of government medical drugs. “I will be bringing before this Parliament, the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Bill that will provide stiffer penalties and sanctions for those that are caught stealing or misusing the drugs that are meant for Malawians,” Muluzi told Parliament
“So, the bill will be brought to this Parliament for stiffer sanctions but also to make sure that those that are caught doing this, will also have to face other sanctions such as losing licences to practice so that there is going to be ownership.
“We have to address the market by making sure that we eliminate it. We would want to involve Malawians in this fight as His Excellency the President has spoken very strongly about this. It is one of his priorities by making sure that this issue of drug theft is dealt with,” he said.
A recent study by the Ministry of Health revealed that 30 percent of those malaria drugs are stolen from the Central Medical Stores warehouse in the capital, Lilongwe. Seventy percent of what remains is disappearing from medical facilities around the country, the study found.
There has been concerns that penalties laid out in the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poison Act are too lenient.
Muluzi said the issue is not for the government alone but a collective responsibility.
“ It requires all Malawians to speak up because these things are happening within our communities. These drugs have been stolen and have been made available within the communities. So, we are asking Malawians to come forward because these medicines are free. “The HIV drugs, the TB medication and the Malaria medication are all for free and are not supposed to be sold. Some of the essential medicines as well are free. Therefore, they should not be sold within the communities as it is a health threat because they cannot be stored properly. We should engage our communities in making sure that they help us in this fight,” said Muluzi.
Muluzi also said he w will also be providing a ministerial statement with regard to what the government is doing in improving the drug supply chain “ so that we ensure that we address the issue of drug shortage in Malawi and of course, the leakages that have been there in the system.”
M ember of parliament for Rumphi East, Kamlepo Kalua (People’s Party—PP) asked the minister to explain what action has he taken against those people who were found with these drugs or were caught stealing the drugs or were involved in corruption.
Asked Kalua: “Can he show this House as to how many perpetrators of this malpractice are there? Can the Honourable Minister tell this House as to what action has been taken? What is it that the ministry is doing to see to it that these people are convicted and arrested because of this corruption and drug theft”
In his response, Muluzi said the Drug Theft Investigation Unit within the ministry has investigated the matter and police have prosecuted approximately 40 individuals.
“These individuals are before court and there have been prosecutions that are currently under way and therefore there has been real action. And I will provide more details to this Honourable House in due course.
“ So, there has been real action with regards to prosecution but I think it is not enough since there is a lot more that we can do with respect to making sure that we are not just addressing the problem after it has occurred but preventing it from happening in the first place,” said Muluzi.
He said the focus now is on strengthening the system to make sure that authorities are preventing theft from happening in the first place.
“ At the same time, we are also strengthening the drug theft investigation units, strengthening the capabilities of auditing investigations and working alongside the Ministry of Justice and the Malawi Police Service for prosecution,” he added.
He noted that “there are gaps” in the laws which that is why he will be bringing into Parliament the Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Bill.
“We want to have stiffer penalties for those that are caught stealing medical drugs or supplies. That is why that amendment is critical. We will be bringing this bill for consideration by this House in order to make sure that we have necessary tools to deal decisively with drug theft alongside the improvement in the systems for prevention in the first place,” said Muluzi.