VAST MEDICINE TOSS-OUT: THE HERALD

A STAGGERING 19 tons of medication has been destroyed by the Eastern Cape Health Department over the past seven months.

Estimated to be worth millions of rands, the medication had either been tampered with or left to expire at government depots, hospitals and clinics.

Shocked political parties said yesterday the amount of medicine destroyed was atrocious and a “human rights violation”.

The tablets and liquids come from the department’s two depots in Mthatha and Port Elizabeth, as well as from the 92 staterun hospitals in the province.

The destroyed drugs ranged from headache pills to anti-retrovirals and insulin.

The figure does not include the 16 tons of pharmaceutical and surgical products destroyed in a fire at the Mthatha depot earlier this year.

The department said the medication dated back several years.

It is now investigating why truckloads of medicine were left to expire.

Health superintendent-general Siva Pillay said the problem stemmed from the lack of secure medical waste disposal sites in the province.

“There is only one EIA-APproved disposal site in the province and this is managed by a private company. The previous medical waste disposal supplier was on a month-to-month tender, which did not include disposal of medication.”

He said the department was forced to store the expired medicines for several years.

“This tender was recently awarded to a medical waste disposal company [which includes medicines disposal]. This is why all expired and damaged medicines are now being disposed of in a responsible manner,” he said.

Pillay said if the boxes or seals of liquid phials were even slightly opened, tampered with or damaged, the medication had to be destroyed. He said drugs were also withdrawn from the market from time to time and replaced with new and improved drugs.

“The doctors obviously prefer the less toxic and more effective medication.”

Giving an example, Pillay said: “When [HIV] drugs are withdrawn, the suppliers rely on the department to dispose of the withdrawn drugs.” Hospitals and clinics then had to be re-supplied with the newer drugs.

DA health spokesman John Cupido MPL said: “Allowing vast amounts of medication to expire and go to ruin is the same as withholding treatment and is tantamount to a human rights violation.”

He said stock control policies needed to be revisited to cut down on the “alarming” quantity of drugs destroyed.

“If even the simplest of stock control measures were exercised, millions of rands’ worth of medication could have been redistributed to clinics across the Eastern Cape,” he said.

Cupido said clinics, especially those in rural areas, often ran out of much-needed medication and went for months without stock.

“Proper stock control and redistribution of medication would mean the medication will be put to good use well before the expiry dates.”

COPE health spokesman Nkosinathi Kuluta MPL said the civil servants responsible for the “malicious waste” should be held accountable.

Health portfolio committee chairwoman Viola Mtongana MPL said: “The department must ensure it follows the protocols.”