Malaria Drug Theft Costs US Dollars

It is concerning that just two short years ago, there were 6.3 million reported cases of Malaria in Malawi. More concerning is the rate at which the life-saving drugs used to cure the disease are being stolen.

 “Drug theft has to stop and the public needs to play a key role in identifying it, reporting it, and holding the people responsible accountable.”- Virginia Palmer, U.S. Ambassador to Malawi

Malaria is a huge public health issue for many regions of the world, but with proper diagnosis the parasites that cause the disease can be treated. Recognizing the endemic, U.S. government programs such as the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria donate malaria treatments to Malawai public hospitals.

These initiatives are very impressive, but their effectiveness is being diminished by the high rate of drug thefts occurring in the country. Since PMI first became aware that nearly 70% of the donated drugs were being stolen from hospitals, they have established several campaigns and initiatives such as a tip hotline in order to report stolen anti-malaria drugs.

PMI has invested over $200 million to provide the treatments to affected Malawi citizens, and the Global Fund has provided $837 million. Officials have realized that in addition to battling the issue of these free drugs being used outside of their intended scope, there needs to be a focus on the legal implications of those caught stealing.  

Currently, the laws regarding drug theft are felt to be too lenient, with an individual paying fines of less than what would be equal to $100.  Minister of Health Dr. Peter Kumpalume has suggested that that a recall of existing laws and imposing stiffer punishments will assist in getting perpetrators to take the crime more seriously.