Global Fund Investigates Theft Of Malaria-Fighting Medicine

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria last week said it was investigating reports in Cambodia and 12 other countries that millions of dollars worth of malaria-fighting drugs have been stolen.

The statement followed an Asso­ciated Press bulletin, according to which the fund suspects that $2.5 million in medications were stolen between 2009 and 2011. The Fund has supplied $98 million in anti-malaria drugs in the 13 countries—all in Africa except for Cam­bodia—in the past 30 months.

“The Global Fund is currently in­vestigating what portion of this amount might have been diverted,” the statement said, confirming that $850,000 worth of drugs had been stolen in Togo alone.

The fund has not answered ques­tions about the progress of its investigation in Cambodia.

In March, government and World Health Organization officials said the fund’s independent inspection body was auditing grants made to the Health Ministry but said they did not know if this a special investigation or a routine review.

WHO country representative Pieter Van Maaren, vice chair of the joint committee that oversees the fund’s grants to Cambodia, said the auditors had still revealed little.

With no official word on what they were looking for, he said, “I guess one of the issues is looking at the possibility of stolen drugs.”

Among the groups in Cambodia supported by the fund is Popu­lations Services International, which uses the funds to provide private clinics with malaria drugs at below-market prices.

Henrietta Allen, a technical adviser for PSI, declined to comment on the probe, but said tracking sto­len drugs in Cambodia would be made difficult by the fact that bottles are typically stripped of much of their packaging before distribution. “Un­less the packaging is there that says it’s not for sale, it’s difficult to tell.”

Cambodia is the birthplace of the most dangerous drug-resistant strains over the past 50 years. Health officials are again worried by early signs of resistance to the latest drugs along the Cambodian-Thai border.

Duong Socheat, director of the Health Ministry’s National Malaria Center, declined to comment.

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