Friday, 18 March 2011

Missing Money, Missing Drugs and Missing Jobs

One of the consequences of the suspension of funding to Zambia by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, has been an increasing number of stock outages and drug rationing that has affected all hospitals nation-wide, Mwandi Mission included.

Stock outages at clinics and hospitals have been so far fairly short term, but Central Medical Stores have sometimes run out of stocks for a considerable period as they wait for emergency shipments to arrive. In cases of low stock levels, drugs are rationed.

Regular readers will remember in an earlier blog the covering of the allegations of corruption at the Zambian Ministry of Health (MoH) uncovered by an investigation by the auditor general. The audit found that the ministry could not account for more than US$7.2 million. The repercussions from this are still being felt.

Another audit undertaken by the Global Fund* reported on poor financial management at the MoH, Ministry of Finance, the Christian Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) and the Zambian National AIDS Network. These bodies used to receive Global Fund monies directly for programme implementation and then pass funds on to other organisations called sub-recipients. The audit found that $10.7 million of Global Fund money was not passed on and, to date, none of it has been repaid. The alleged financial mismanagement includes the purchase of vehicles for personal use, inflated salaries - sometimes more than double the going–rate locally, and funds disbursed to sub-recipients who could not provide auditors with financial records.

The Global Fund only funds CHAZ directly now; the MoH no longer receives funds, its responsibility in this area has gone to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Zambia. Teething troubles with these new procedures have brought delays for us on the ground in receiving funding for our AIDS Relief Programme. We have also suffered two major stock-outs of antiretrovirals (ARVs) recently. Fortunately we had a Hospital vehicle in Lusaka at the time that waited for one of the drugs to arrive in the country. We are relying on UNICEF and USAID who are scrambled to bring in more expensive emergency supplies until the new bodies get their procurement procedures properly functioning. TB drugs have also been in short supply. A week’s supply of the children’s ARVs was borrowed from the District Hospital.

The knock-on effects from this was that we could only give a week’s supply which meant the children and parents having another walk in a week’s time to the Clinic to receive the rest of the month’s supply. This meant further unbudgeted transport costs for the rural poor with an increased risk of defaulting and subsequent resistance.

Those responsible for the misuse of funds are still not being held accountable. It will be up to local courts to prosecute those suspected of fraud or the misappropriation of funds. Civil Society and some NGOs are pressing for this. Patients and clients in this area rely on these funds to provide their medication; if there are no drugs available or they are in short supply they need to know why. They have a human right to universal and equitable access.

Linked to this we have four workers facing immediate redundancy. The Government has recently been recruiting mission workers and has put on their payroll some who were formerly paid by CHAZ through a grant from Government which came originally from outside donors. The Government is keeping that grant to pay workers directly. CHAZ workers who are under 45 years of age and in possession of a Grade 12 School leaving Certificate were eligible to apply. The grant to the Hospital to pay the CHAZ workers is being cut in proportion to the number of workers put on Government payroll and linked to the ‘on paper’ establishment. So we now have four over-aged or under-qualified workers with many years of good experience and loyal service who are about to be thrown on the scrap heap as surplus to requirement. The change-over was supposed to be done over time and using where possible natural wastage. The Hospital cannot at the moment generate enough independent income to pay them or pay their retrenchment package.

Like our clients and patients living with HIV and Aids, these four people are another set of victims of the world’s greed and injustice, their dignity in work destroyed. Wealth that has been given generously is not shared fairly but kept in the hands of a few and misused to promote inequality and injustice.

*The full report can be found by googling 'Global Funding Country Audit Zambia'

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