Civil Society Health Coalition Cracks Down on Pharmaceutical Rogues; Launches Campaign to Safeguard Donated Medical Supplies

By: Jeremiah Sackie Cooper.

Liberia: In a bid to safeguard donated medical supplies from exploitation, the Civil Society Health Coalition has initiated a bold campaign aimed at curbing malpractice and ensuring equitable access to vital medications across Liberia.

The campaign is an initiave of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) civil society activity in Liberia.

USAID Civil Society Activity seeks to strengthen the ability of Liberians to advocate for policy reforms, policy implementation and service delivery improvement.

Amid growing concerns over the misappropriation and profiteering of donated medicines meant for the most vulnerable populations, the Civil Society Health Coalition (CSHC) has stepped forward to address this pressing issue. 

The coalition, comprising Community Health Education and Social Service, Efficient Research and Development Institute, Humanity Above One-Self Foundation, Public Health Initiative Liberia, Volunteers United for Development, and Youth Network for Positive Change have pledged to tackle the systemic challenges undermining the distribution of crucial medications with support from USAID.

The decision to launch this campaign comes in the wake of mounting evidence suggesting the diversion of donated pharmaceuticals for commercial gain, depriving those in need of essential medical treatments.

Reports have surfaced detailing instances where medicines intended for humanitarian purposes have found their way into illicit markets, exacerbating healthcare disparities and fueling illicit trade practices.

The Humanity Above Oneself Foundation(HAOSF), a member of the Civil Society Health Coalition, earlier this month released a report disclosing that authorities at several health facilities across Margibi County failed to account for USAID-donated malaria medicines and testing kit.

On March 7, 2024, Government of Liberia, through the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) indicted several individuals, including former and current officials of the Margibi County Health Team and businessmen, on charges of Economic Sabotage, theft of property, tampering with public records, criminal facilitation, and criminal conspiracy.

In a remark during the launch of the campaign, USAID Mission Director Jim Wright emphasized the need for government officials and public servants at all levels to fully support the Campaign. 

“Last year, USAID and the Global Fund donated 14 million US dollars in life-saving medicines and other health commodities to the people of Liberia. These essential health products significantly reduce preventable deaths or severe illness due to diseases that can be treated or cured.

The USAID Mission Director expressed frustration over the alleged stealing of health products donated by the US government.

“Unfortunately, due to fraud and mismanagement, these donated health commodities  are often not reaching Liberians who need them.

I have witnessed this problem firsthand. I have seen empty  dispensary shelves in public health facilities across the nation.  And, I have spoken with Liberians who have suffered needlessly because they were unable to fill prescriptions they received from their healthcare providers” he stressed.

Director Wright also called on the Liberian government to ensure accountability in the health sector of the country by prosecuting individuals guilty of stealing and selling donated health commodities.

“I would also encourage the new Minister of Justice to continue the work of his predecessor by moving forward with investigations that target the wider networks responsible for stealing donated medicines from the people of Liberia and selling them for a profit, he added.

For his part, the Minister of Justice Oswald Tweh affirmed the government commitment in ensuring that donated health supplies reach the apporiate beneficiaries. 

“Your advocacy for adequate service delivery is highly commendable. When drugs intended for the public do not reach the targeted beneficiaries, is bad”, he added.

Minister Oswald called for the collective efforts of Liberian and partners to help compact corruption, noting that corrupt acts are  underpinning Liberia’s development.

Also speaking, Representative Julia Wiah, Chair House of Representatives Committee on Health, emphasized the urgent need for collective action to combat this alarming trend.

Rep. Wiah assured the Civil Society Health Coalition of the House of Representatives commitment to fighting corruption in the health sector and increase budgetary allotment for easy access to medical services across Liberia 

 “The exploitation of donated medical supplies not only undermines humanitarian efforts but also jeopardizes the lives of countless individuals who rely on these medications for their survival,” she asserted.

The campaign aims to address various facets of the issue, including the implementation of stricter oversight mechanisms to monitor the distribution and utilization of donated pharmaceuticals. 

Additionally, the coalition plans to collaborate with governmental agencies, international organizations, and other stakeholders to strengthen regulatory frameworks and enforce stringent penalties for those found guilty of profiteering from humanitarian aid.

Acknowledging the complexity of the challenge at hand, stakeholders from diverse backgrounds have voiced their support for the CSHC’s initiative. Representatives from donor organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and humanitarian agencies have expressed a shared commitment to upholding ethical standards and ensuring the effective delivery of medical assistance to those in need.

Joseph Remi, Deputy Country Director of USAID Global Health Supply Chain called for the full involvement of community members in safeguarding medical supply at local health facilities in their areas.

Deputy Director Remi noted that for Liberia supply chain to reach it full potential,  everyone must get involved.

“We all need to strengthen our partnership, we all need to support the supply chain system. The Minister of Health need to step up their own game and monitor the supply chain system in Liberia” he added 

In light of the growing momentum behind the campaign, the CSHC remains steadfast in its resolve to advocate for the rights of vulnerable populations and hold accountable those who seek to profit at the expense of human lives. 

Through sustained advocacy efforts and strategic partnerships, the coalition aims to create a more equitable healthcare landscape where access to essential medications is not dictated by profit motives but guided by principles of compassion and solidarity.

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