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Chemists profit from sale of stolen medicines

Patients visiting public hospitals end up buying   drugs at inflated prices. They get them from chemists supplied by cartels which steal from State pharmacies.

One of the rogue chemists said she had reaped huge profits from the illicit trade, which leaves poor residents unable to afford medication.

In her early 30s, Lucy Mudamba, who operates six chemists in the city centre, Satellite and Riruta estates admitted that about a half of her stock came from public pharmacies.

“In my stock, all the Cosatrim DS (a form of Septrin mostly used by people with immunity deficiencies) I have was meant for public pharmacies and it is the fastest moving prescription drug,” said the woman.

The drug is also easily sold over the counter, because only a brief acknowledgement print of the USAid funding for government supplied drugs differentiates it from those meant for the commercial market.

At the private chemists, one tablet is sold for Sh10, with a box containing 100 tablets sold to the chemists for Sh580 giving them a Sh420 profit.

But rogue chemists get the same box of 100 tablets for Sh100. After distributing them at the standard retail price, they make Sh900.

Pharmacists at the hospitals help the rogue chemists to sell their stock by sending patients with prescriptions to them.

“Majority of the customers come with prescriptions from public health hospitals,” added Mudamba.

The customers from public hospitals are many as we saw during a three-hour wait at one of Mudamba’s outlets in Satellite. This made it clear that the public pharmacies were badly understocked.

At least 16 of the customers came with public hospital prescriptions, with a young woman sent from Riruta Health Centre nearby bringing  a prescription for Paracetamol.

Another drug illegally procured from public chemists is Coartem, but Mudamba said these had currently become rare.

“They used to leave a good profit margin,” she said.

A box of neon gloves is bought by chemists at Sh200 — way below the commercial price of Sh350 – Sh480.

According to the agency that procures, stores and distribute most of the Government drugs, the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), most of the drugs are lost after reaching the health facilities.

“We can only act if we get the batch number of a consignment that ends up at a private chemist. This can help in ascertaining where it was meant to go,” said Kemsa spokesman Dominic Kabiru.

Nairobi County Government, however, said their procurement process for drugs and its chain of distribution has been digitised to  curb the cartels’ activities.

“It is up to the public to report such cases and the culprits will be brought to book,” said Dr Robert Ayisi, the Health Executive.