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Crime & PunishmentGeneralHealthLiberia news

Dr. Jallah, others in hot water

--As Health Minister constitutes taskforce to probe USAID drugs diversion allegation

 A task force has been constituted based on a report by USAID and other reports suggesting that donated drugs have been stolen and sold in pharmacies here.

By Lincoln G. Peters

Monrovia, May 22, 2024: Liberia’s former Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, and others are in hot water following the constitution of a National Health Taskforce to investigate alleged drug diversion.

The task force was constituted after the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 2023 assessment indicated that most pharmacies in the country were allegedly selling stolen medicine.

USAID reported the scandal in Monrovia on 15 April 2024, alleging that medicines provided by donors were stolen and sold in pharmacies.

USAID Mission Director Mr. Jim Wright said the assessment discovered that about 90% of pharmacies sell stolen medicine donated to Liberia.

Mr. Wright said that medicine is only available to patients with enough money to buy them.

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The task force to probe the scandal includes representatives from the National Health Workers Union of Liberia, the Independent Health Taskforce of Liberia, the Minister of Health as Ex-officio, and the Chief Pharmacist of Liberia.

The Liberia Medical and Dental Council, Liberia Medicine and Health Product Regulatory Authority, Liberia Pharmacy Board, Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency, and the Ministry of Justice are also on the team. 

The task force is chaired by Dr. Davis Sumo, chairman of the Liberia Medicine and Health Products Regulatory Authority’s Board of Directors.

In a swift response to James Wright’s assertion, former Health Minister Dr. Wilhemina Jallah termed the statement unrealistic. 

Dr. Jallah added that despite reports of stolen medical supplies, the Ministry launched an investigation which proved that nothing was stolen.

Minister of Health Dr. Louis M. Kpoto

Liberia’s Health Minister, Dr. Louis M. Kpoto, explained the task force’s significance on Tuesday, 21 May 2024, at a well-attended media engagement held in the ministry’s conference room.

Dr. Kpoto said they have constituted a task force to investigate drug diversion following donations to the Ministry by donors and the government.

Dr. Kpoto disclosed that the investigation will ensure a holistic and inclusive approach to addressing the systemic challenge that bedevils the health sector.

She noted that the task force will work diligently to identify the root causes of issues such as the diversion, and misappropriation of medicine and medical supplies designated for hospitals and clinics.

She assured Liberians that the investigation would take a holistic approach when the task force started because it would call all those involved.

She continued that they would look at the USAID report and invite colleagues to give some clarification.

According to her, they acknowledged receipt of the report from USAID, so setting up the task force is one of the mechanisms for intervention that focuses on addressing the problems and challenges confronting the sector.

Dr. Kpoto revealed that the task force’s particular emphasis is on monitoring the distribution and appropriate utilization of medical products provided by both donors and the government to public care institutions.

Dr. Kpoto further stated that the task force was constituted based upon the report from USAID and other reports they have been getting from the field, which indicates drug diversion in the health secretor.

She detailed that their goal is to build a healthcare system that operates with transparency and accountability, focusing on quality patient care and providing a conducive working environment for their dedicated service provider.

“To achieve this, we have initiated strategic interventions, cardinal among which is the formation of the National Health Taskforce of Liberia,” she explained. 

“The mandate of this task force is to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the health sector, both public and private, to identify and document the challenges, [and] bottlenecks that have been hindering the provision of quality health service to our citizens,” said Dr. Kpoto.

She expressed confidence that the work of the National Health Sector Taskforce will create a healthcare system that truly serves the needs of the Liberian people.

“I encourage all Liberians to support the task force’s work and to collaborate with us in building a resilient health care system for Liberia,” she pleaded.

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