NATIONAL | A joint team in anti-medical supplies theft operation has impounded at least 980 boxes of assorted medical items — including 165 boxes of medicines intended for public health facilities — valued at Shs490 million, the Ministry of Health has said.
Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, during a media briefing at Uganda Media Centre on Thursday, said a truck intercepted in Lubowa, a city suburb, had 198 packs of suspected counterfeit Postinor 2 (Lovonorgestrel 0.75mg) — for preventing pregnancy.
“This pilferage compromises the quality of health service delivery hence discrediting government programmes and yet government continues to increase the medicines budget annually and improve the supply chain,” Dr Aceng said.
Postinor 2 remains one of the most marketable contraceptives used in preventing pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or accidents or rape.
At least six persons have been arrested and await prosecution over the same, she added.
The ministry carried out the operation jointly with National Drug Authority (NDA), Uganda Police Force, and Health Monitoring Unit (HMU) to curb and clear the country of illegal drug dealers, on substandard drugs, counterfeit medicines and drugs embossed: “Government of Uganda, Not for Sale.”
In a statement, the minister said it conducted about five operations between March and April 2019 seeking to intercept dealers in medicines intended for public health facilities with intentions to sell them to the private sector or export them to other countries.
The operations also sought to save tax payers money by stopping medicines pilferage from public health facilities, clamp down on a racket involved in deliberate alteration/re-labeling of expired medicine and prevent its use by the population.
It also saw a crackdown on dealers in substandard, and counterfeit medicines.
The operations, between March and April, started about a month after Police inextricably foiled an investigative journalism sting local broadcaster NBS was jointly working on with BBC.
In February, Police arrested BBC journalists and raided the home of NBS television investigative reporter Solomon Serwanjja where they reported finding anti-malarial drugs.
The journalists were undercover around Makindye suburb for a story on theft of government drugs that reports show are sold on the black market or exported to countries like Sudan.
The police action had foiled the investigations and although Police apologised and admitted it erred in its actions, the damage appears to have been caused after the sting was exposed.
However, the Ministry of Health decided to continue with the operation their own style, leading to arrest of at least four officials, closure of dozens of facilities as well as impounding an assortment of medical supplies worth millions of shillings.
Our operations that will cover the whole country begun in eastern Uganda and Kampala targeting five major shift markets in the four districts of Bukedea, Soroti, Bulambuli, and Serere.
They impounded 31 boxes of medicine and arrested 19 suspects.
“In these shift markets, there are hawkers of medicine who have no knowledge in handling medicine, hence exposing the unsuspecting population to health risks with their unverified claims,” Dr Aceng said.
“Such individuals sell substandard, fake, and counterfeit medicines.”
The minister decried that some individuals have taken-up hawking of medicine as a livelihood.
The teams also conducted inspections of 17 major drug shops in Manafwa, Serere, Budaka, Ngora, Mbale, Kaberamaido, and Soroti to weed out illegal operators.
During the exercise, 12 drug shops were closed, 12 boxes of medicines impounded, and 10 suspects apprehended and handed over to police.
In Kaberamaido, a drug shop in the names of Healing Drug Shop had a box of Coartem tablets with doses for 186 patients that were donations not intended for sale, but were being sold to the community.
In Kampala, the team intercepted three trailers with 716 boxes of assorted medicines suspected to be unauthorised medicines or medicines labelled “Government of Uganda, Not for sale” intended to be exported to other neighbouring countries.
Dr Aceng said one of the trucks incepted at Clock Tower had 466 boxes of assorted medicine with no authorisation for export by NDA.
At Lubowa, another trailer had 183 boxes of assorted medicines of which 34 boxes were discovered with Lumartem DT (ArtemetherLumefantrin) labelled “Government of Uganda, Not for Sale.”
The truck also had 198 packs of suspected counterfeit Postinor 2 (Lovonorgestrel 0.75mg) — for preventing pregnancy –, 42 tins of 1000 tablets of Quinine Bisulphate 300mg and five tins of Cotrimaxazole tablets.
At Gaagaa Bus terminal, 67 boxes were discovered of which 12 had medicines labelled “Government of Uganda, Not for sale.”
“We arrested a racket of dealers on E-Tower along Kampala Road involved in deliberate alteration/re-labeling of batch numbers, expiry dates and manufacturing dates,” the minister said.
“We impounded 26 boxes of assorted medicine, a box of assorted documents and two boxes of equipment,” the minister said.
The operation also saw inspection of of drug shops in Kampala Divisions of Kawempe and Makindye during which 71 drug shops were closed, and 90 boxes of medicines impounded.
“A night operation was held in Kampala and surrounding areas (Nalumunye, Kitemu, Salama, Kyanja, Rubaga and Nansana where 106 boxes of assorted medicines were impounded from five homes,” she said.
The impounded medicines had 91 boxes of medicines of government drugs with doses for 7,017 patients with drugs such as Lumartem/Combiart/coartem for malaria, anti-biotics (Capreomycin/Rentrim), HIV/Aids drug (Atazanavir/ritonauir), donated anti-fungal drugs from India (FluconazoleIV), and other items included body bags, IV cannulas, sutures and absorbent gauze rolls.
Arrested suspects named
Dr Aceng identified the suspects arrested during the operations as George Makubuya in Rubaga, who is being held at Old Kampala Police Station; Frank Namanya and OnesmusNimuhwezi being held at Nansana Police Station; Deo Mburakeye of Salama being held at Katwe Police Station; and Deborah Nalule and Joseph Babihize of Kyanja held at Kira road Police Station.
“All the apprehended culprits must face the law under the provisions of the NDP/A Act as investigations regarding the source of medicines intended for public health facilities are still ongoing,” she said.
The Ministry of Health appealed to all stakeholders and the wider public not to steal or sell medicines meant for the population of Uganda.
She urged the public to report cases of drug theft and sale of government-labelled drugs in private facilities, saying combating such crime will improve on health service delivery since many people who seek services in government facilities often end up without proper drugs due to shortage.
In the next Financial year 2019/2020, the medicines budget has been increased by 24% from Shs300 billion to Shs396 billion.