Global Fund Decries 'Factual Inaccuracies' in Malaria Medicine Theft Story

An almost empty shelf for medicines. Photo by: Julien Harneis / CC BY-SA

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has refuted a news report claiming that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of malaria drugs it donated to developing countries over the past few years may have been lost to theft.

The fund said that the original article, published April 20 by the Associated Press, contained “serious misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies.” The AP report has since been corrected, according to a Global Fund statement.

“Over the last two and a half years, the Global Fund has funded a total of $98 million in anti-malaria drugs in the 13 countries mentioned in the article. The Global Fund is currently investigating what portion of this amount might have been diverted,” the statement reads.

The fund suspects that some its donated malaria drugs may have been stolen and that the majority of the theft involved insiders at government-operated warehouses, Global Fund spokesperson Jon Liden told Bloomberg.

The AP story was based on classified Global Fund reports leaked to the news agency. The reports are part of an internal investigation launched by the fund in December 2010.

>> Global Fund Probes Possible Theft, Resale of Donated Malaria Drugs

According to the documents, the Global Fund believes there was a theft of some $2.5 million worth of drugs donated to Togo, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Swaziland from 2009 to 2011, and possibly earlier. At least nine other African countries are under investigation, the corrected AP article says.

Liden told BBC that while the $2.4 million figure is not the “final word” in total Global Fund’s losses, the suspected sum was a “fraction of our overall delivery.” He emphasized that the majority of malaria drugs distributed by the fund reaches their intended recipients.

“We are concerned about every drug theft we find, but we do not believe that in general this is an overall threat to the procurement and delivery of drugs in Africa,” the BBC quotes Liden. “We pursue every single theft - we do consider it a troubling fact but the scale is nowhere near what has been reported.”

In its statement, the Global Fund confirmed that it is seeking repayment of $850,000 for stolen medicines in Togo, of which $600,000 have already been met.

Liden added, in interviews with various news agencies, that the Global Fund does “what it takes” to protect its investments.

The AP story notes that the documents it acquired indicate that the Global Fund took prompt action after discovering the scope of the theft by suspending its grants for the storage of malaria drugs in government warehouses in Malawi and Swalizand.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.