Thursday, 21 April 2011

MALARIA: Anti-malaria drugs worth millions of dollars stolen from global health charity

20 April 2011

Anti-malaria drugs worth millions of dollars stolen from global health charity Thirteen countries identified, mostly in Africa, where drugs have been sold on the black market
A global health fund believes millions of dollars' worth of its donated malaria drugs have been stolen in recent years. In internal documents leaked to the Associated Press, officials from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria – backed by big names including the singer Bono and Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, and hailed as an alternative to UN bureaucracy – identified 13 countries, mostly in Africa, where drugs have gone missing. Spokesman Jon Liden confirmed the fund suspects malaria drugs worth $2.5m were stolen, mainly from 2009 to 2011. He said investigations were under way to determine how much was stolen elsewhere. "We take this very seriously and we will do what it takes to protect our investment," he said.
An AP report in January exposed high rates of misappropriated money in some Global Fund grants and bruised the reputation of the multibillion-dollar fund.
But the fact that these revelations have come to light at all may be due to stricter self-policing and greater transparency at the Global Fund, compared with other aid organisations.
Malaria infects more than 250 million people every year, killing about a million, the vast majority of whom are children in Africa. Because there is a huge demand for malaria drugs, which are widely available at pharmacies and on private markets, they are easier to sell than drugs for other diseases such as Aids, which are mainly handed out at health clinics.
After discovering the scope of the malaria drug thefts, the new Global Fund documents indicate the fund took prompt action, suspending grants for medicines to be stored at government warehouses in Swaziland and Malawi.
Other than the drugs confirmed stolen in Togo, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Cambodia, specific dollar figures were not available for the other nine countries, all in Africa and including Nigeria and Kenya, where the Global Fund has large programmes.
The fund singled out a $200m contract for malaria drugs in Tanzania in which it suspects theft took place. It listed the theft at more than $1m but said: "The potential cost of the misappropriation is not yet quantified." In Togo, the fund reported $850,000 worth of drugs disappeared in 2008 in a case of "insider stealing".
The audits that the AP wrote about in January suggested that tens of thousands of dollars worth of malaria drugs are stolen every year.
The Global Fund's inspector general said in a report to its board of directors late last year that it was beginning to investigate allegations of "organised theft of anti-malarial drugs" in African countries, after discovering that drugs were ending up on store shelves in African countries instead of going to the intended recipients for free.
The new documents obtained by the AP – which are the results of that investigation – show that in about 70% of cases, the drugs were stolen at government-operated warehouses by security personnel, warehouse managers and doctors.
"The cases show that drug misappropriations are well organised and predominantly planned by insiders using falsified documents," one of the reports said. The documents also state that pilfered drugs were being shipped to other countries for resale, often within hours of their arrival.
Officials wrote that there was a "parallel market for the sale of Global Fund-procured drugs" and that many other investigations on alleged thefts in other countries were under way.

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