10 December 2010
GENEVA – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will invite major international funders of drug supplies to developing countries, technical and law enforcement agencies and implementers of health programs to intensify joint efforts to prevent theft of medical drugs.
The Global Fund will invite the agencies to take concerted action to stem drug thefts, ranging from information-sharing and joint strengthening of procurement and distribution capacity in developing countries to applying stringent security measures around drug storage and transport. A preliminary meeting will be held in January to draw up a joint action plan.
Theft of drugs is an old and persistent problem in developed and developing countries alike, especially for drugs that may be cheap or free in the public sector but fetch high prices on the open market or in neighboring countries with different pricing policies. Problems are exacerbated by limited resources and imperfect distribution systems in many of the world’s poorest countries.
In past years, reports and allegations of large-scale theft of new, effective malaria drugs have received particular attention. The medicines, known as Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs), are given out for free or very cheaply in public health centers and hospitals in a large number of countries but are sold over the counter in pharmacies and street stalls for US$8 or more per treatment. Typically, more than half of malaria drugs in African countries are not given out by doctors or nurses but are sold over the counter.
“Theft of medicines is a problem that affects all institutions investing in health services, and we must clamp down on it,” said Michel Kazatchkine, the Global Fund’s Executive Director. “However, no single institution can act on its own. We can only solve this challenge if we all work together.”
The Global Fund has demanded stricter control with drug warehousing and distribution in five African countries already based on reports of possible drug thefts. Lessons from these countries and from other organizations’ similar efforts will be shared and developed further over the coming months.
“The Global Fund tolerates no fraud and will do whatever it can to ensure that donor money reaches those it is intended for,” said John Parsons, the Global Fund’s Inspector General. “By convening the major parties involved in global drug procurement, we hope to achieve results each one of us would not be able to do on our own.”
In an initiative that complements the work to secure drug storage and distribution, the Global Fund is leading a US$216 million global innovation to finance improved access to ACTs by subsidizing the costs to buyers and patients in the private, non-governmental and public sectors.
The main purpose of this Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm) is to ensure that older, ineffective malaria drugs are driven off the market by cheap, universally available ACTs. Retail prices of ACTs are expected to dramatically decline as a result of the combined effect of several factors, including: the reduced prices at which importers now buy ACTs under the AMFm; an increase of ACT quantities in each country; increased competition among sellers; and an increase in public information and marketing campaigns to increase awareness among buyers and patients of recommended prices in each country.
A potential additional benefit of driving down prices of drugs in the private sector is to reduce the incentive to steal drugs from public health services to sell them expensively in private stalls and shops. If successful and rolled out continent-wide, this innovation could curb a principal cause of theft of malaria drugs.