Cops bust expired drugs repackaging, sale racket

Unsuspecting Kenyans might have been exposed to potentially hazardous expired drugs by merchants of death conniving with some greedy officials from the country’s medical supplies agency.

We have established that while the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) might be giving out the drugs and other medical supplies as part of social corporate responsibility to benefit medical camps, but which some latch onto and instead, turn the arrangement into cash minting adventure, roping in other buccaneers.

And already a businessman was last week arrested and arraigned in court after drugs worth millions of shillings were found in a house in Nairobi’s Parklands area.

Confirming the arrest, Parklands Directorate of Criminal Investigations officer (DCIO), David Chebii said his officers accompanied by officers from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board raided a servant quarter on  2nd Parklands Avenue and upon search found an array of medical and related equipment ranging from surgical gloves, X-ray protective gowns, amoxil capsules, surgical injections and sutures and an assortment of drugs. 

The drugs  which bore the GOK sign had their expiry date erased and new ones inserted to delude possible buyers.    Also found in the premises were equipment used to repackage the drugs and make concoctions which according to an official from the Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board could only be termed dangerous since their use-by date had expired. 

It was understood that the dealers would get tipped off by the  supply agency’s sales and marketing   and customer service staff, on drugs whose demand is high with antibiotics reportedly being high up on demand.  A source privy to the dealings told the People Daily that the individuals involved normally place request for the drugs to offer during medical camps and which Kemsa donates in the fulfillment of corporate social responsibility. What follows is an elaborate process which also ropes in senior personnel in various departments at Kemsa, who have the knowledge of what will be classified as short expiry, long before the CSR request is made.

A source who has been involved in the underhand deals but who we cannot name given the sensitive nature of the scandal explained the steps they take upon receipt of the drugs from Kemsa. He for example told us that the journey begins with writing a request letter for the drugs from the authority chief executive as procedure requires. It is this process that the dealers latch on to and penetrate with the help of some agency officials, mostly but not exclusively customer service insiders, who provide linkage with  the warehouse,  who in turn tip the dealers on what medicines are available. “We even convince the agency to give us X-ray films which obviously are unlikely to be used in medical camps. These are the ones we end up selling,” explained the source. We have in our possession seven letters from one group calling itself, South Maragoli Youths Development made on December 20 last year, requesting for drugs to be given out at medical camps.

The man further narrated how after getting approval to collect the drugs, they transport them to a hideout ready for repacking.

“We normally extend the expiry dates by even two years even for medicines that were due to expiry in six months time. We are aware of the dangers posed but money is the driving force,” the source revealed. The report comes at a time when the government announced that it was revising laws and fines for illegal operations involving counterfeit drugs which are understood to be flooding the market. 

Health Cabinet secretary Sicily Kariuki had this to say in Nakuru recently: “We are taking stringent measures to ensure counterfeit drugs do not reach patients, the government is going to be extra vigilant.” The Pharmacy and Poisons Board has already taken up the matter and was in the process of analysing the drugs confiscated from the businessman.

Joshua Plekwa, a Senior Pharmaceutical Inspector at the Board told the People Daily that most of the drugs impounded from the home of the businessman had expired.

“We also found some in form of powder which we are still analysing to establish its content. We fear that the man could have repackaged other drugs packaging to hoodwink them that it was real medicine,” said Plekwa, adding that… “the most interesting findings so far is that the drugs were obtained from a government agency since they  bore GOK logo. Why the man was changing the dates remains a mystery.” Efforts to get a comment from Kemsa were fruitless.

The dealers alleged that KEMSA officials do not interfere with their work upon release of the products.

“They have never bothered to participate in any of our medical camps to ascertain whether indeed their donations went into proper use,” the source added.

The medicines end up in pharmacies and hospitals where the dealers make sure the price is favorable to entice the customers.

The revelations comes at a time when the Auditor General  recently revealed that KEMSA lost drugs valued at Sh 352 million due to expiry or damage last year alone.

Auditor General Edward Ouko says in his 2016/17  report that KEMSA  gave no explanation for stocking expired drugs, thereby causing unnecessary loss to the authority when numerous hospitals in the country were complaining of  shortage of drugs.

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