Mkanda Health Centre Maternity Shelter
By Andre Rico Harare
Drug theft by workers in public health facilities in Malawi has become rampant and represents a serious threat to Malawi’s health systems.
In 2015, it was noted that almost 35% of government drugs found in private health facility and Malawi loses 17 billion kwacha budget for the procurement of medicines according to Global Fund Survey. In this story we shall focus much of Mkanda Health Centre.
Mchinji District has 18 health centres and serve 602,305 lives. Mkanda Health Centre is one of them and is situated north of Mchinji and is about 35 KM from Mchinji Boma.
Mkanda health centre serves a lot of people, the centre is embattled in drug theft according to Mkanda Health Centre Management Committee Vice Chairperson, and Jonas Ndhlovu saying the malpractice started way back in 2014.
The Health facility was established way back during the reign of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda and currently it serves a population of about 42,000 people. Mkanda Health Centre serves as a referral of four health centres namely Gumba, Kazyozyo, Fanuel and Chimwamkango.
A visit to Mkanda Health Center in Mchinji has revealed that some health workers at the health facility which borders with Zambia have been stealing drugs and selling them to the shops at Mkanda Trading Center and private clinics in Zambia.
Mkanda Health Center Pharmacist Maxwell Beleko, said the drug theft at the health facility started way back in 2014.
When Beleko realized that the medicines are missing in 2014, he thought of finding other ways to apprehend those who have been stealing medicines in the pharmacy.
Maxwell Beleko, Mkanda Health Centre Pharmacy Assistant said he was accused by the community that he was behind the stealing of the medical drugs at the facility.
“For quiet a period of time, the community has been accusing me that I am stealing and selling the drugs meant for patients who come at the facility for the treatment.
Because I was tired hearing community members calling me a thief, on 23rd February, 2021, l made a plan to sleep inside the pharmacy room in order to apprehend people involved in the drug theft at the health centre.
In the morning of 24th February, 2021 around 6 o’clock, while l was inside l heard the footsteps and the door of the pharmacy was unlocked and l saw my fellow workmate Marko Yohane who was a Hospital attendant entering the pharmacy room.
Marko Yohane was caught red-handed around 5 am in the morning of 24th February, 2021 as he used his own keys to open the doors of the pharmacy”.
Steve and Yohane were arrested and appeared before Mchinji First Grade Magistrate Court to answer a charge of drug theft. In the court, the two, revealed other 5 health workers. They pleaded guilty, but surprisingly, they were given a six months suspended sentence which dissatisfied a lot of people including health analysts.
A month later in April 2021 , Police in the district arrested 2 hospital attendants Saulosi Nyambani and Joseph Katete, 2 Health Surveillance Assistant, Fredrick Katole and Jamson Chiwamba all from Mchinji District Hospital and Epulani Mphamza ex hospital attendant at Mchinji District hospital.
The 5 were answering a case of stealing essential drugs and medical equipment from Mchinji District Hospital and sold to Zambian and Mozambique Nationals.
The Stolen items include 5 cartoons of surgical gloves, 25 boxes of rabies vaccine, 2 boxes of malaria rapid test kits and 2 boxes of HIV Tests worth MK 532,203.09.
The case was presided by Senior Resident Magistrate Eliya Zawanda and on 25th June, 2021 the court sentenced Josephy Katete and Saulosi Yambani to pay a fine of MK60, 000 in default to serve 3 months imprisonment and MK 200,000 in default to serve 9 months in jail respectively. All the convicts paid the fine.
The same court sentenced Jamson Chiwambo to nine months imprisonment and Fredrick Katole to 7 months imprisonment with no option of a fine after they found guilty of stealing essential drugs and medical equipments at the Mchinji district hospital.
In an effort to address the problem, Mkanda Health Center Management Committee introduced a three key system with the keys being kept by three different people.
Reacting to the court judgement People from the area of senior chief Mkanda in Mchinji District have asked authorities from health sectors to review judgment of people found guilty of stealing medical drugs in public health.
According to Mkanda Reflection Action Circle Vice Chairperson Jonas Ndhlovu, it is disheartening to note that the government is losing a lot of money due to drug theft by people government entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the lives of poor people.
Ndhlovu said they are not satisfied with suspended sentence by saying the 2 have been stealing drugs at the facility for a long time and they deserved stiff punishments to give a lesson to other would be offenders.
Enita Nyika a facilitator for Mpazi Action Reflection Circle said as the community who suffered for a long time expected the court to give them stiff punishment to deter other would be offenders but seeing them in the same area walking freely it’s a threat to some officials working at the facility who could easily be connived to do the same malpractice.
Mchinji District Director of Health and Social Services Juliana Kanyengambeta said this kind of judgement cannot help in reducing cases but these judgement will encourage the health workers to continue steal medical drugs and equipment.
Kanyengambeta said after noted that the health workers are involved in drug theft, her office introduced number of measures to curb the malpractice.
“We have Medicine order books with triplicate pages, one page remains in the book the other in the pharmacy and the final page at the user department and the medicine order books have sections for different officers to sign before release of drugs so it is easy for us to track usage of drugs in all health facility.
We have empowered the Health Centre management Committee in drug monitoring and these committees have to be there when drugs are delivered checking stock levels and usage”
Kanyengambeta said though the office introduced these measures it is very pathetic seeing those caught red handed stealing medical drugs receiving suspended sentences or that the court fined them to pay a fine of 60,000 it is very unfair.
George Jobe, Executive Director of Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) concurred with Kanyengambeta saying court judgment was not fair.
Jobe said, ‘medical drugs in public health are meant for citizens who cannot afford to go to a private clinics, so stealing medical drugs in public health facility it is same like killing innocent people’.
“ We are appealing to our courts to consider all involved in stealing public medical drugs as killers and the courts must also stop giving them an option to pay a fine”
He added that all these happens because our prosecutor have a limited knowledge of law, so it is hard for a prosecutor to defend the case if the suspect hires a lawyer.
Then asked government to continue sending police prosecutor to Mpemba Staff Development Institute to upgrade law knowledge.