Zacc probes pharmacies in Covid-19 drug scam Comm Makamure

Zvamaida Murwira

Senior Reporter

SOME pharmacies are allegedly diverting onto the black market drugs bought using foreign currency allotted on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe auction facility and then resold for much higher prices in foreign currency, with drugs that might be able to alleviate Covid-19 symptoms especially vulnerable to this scam.

These syndicates, which include pharmacies, and other health facilities demand payment in United States dollars despite the fact that they, or their importer or wholesaler, bought their currency at the auctions.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) is now investigating and if hard evidence of the practice is found several pharmaceutical importers and retailers could be arrested.

In an interview, Zacc spokesperson, Commissioner John Makamure, said their offices had been lately inundated with complaints and allegations of this practice.

“Medical supplies are one of those items that have been given priority in the allocation of foreign currency by the RBZ so the importers can bid at the auctions. We have received complaints that some unscrupulous pharmacies were accessing the hard currency to procure Covid-19 drugs. The drugs would be on shelves briefly. They would then de-shelve them and divert them onto the black market,” said Comm Makamure.

“The reports we are receiving are that other pharmacies, upon receiving RBZ auction proceeds they will insist on selling the drugs in foreign currency. The pharmacies are obviously taking advantage of spiralling of Covid-19 cases where more people are desperate.”

He said some of the drugs that have de-shelved but resurfaced on the black market include Ivermectin, an anti-parastic drug that is being studied to establish its efficacy in the treatment of Covid-19 symptoms, with Government having recently authorised its import for further studies.

Already the drug has been found on the black market in what Zacc suspects to have been a ploy by some unscrupulous pharmacies to cash-in from the Covid-19 spike.

Last week, the Government approved the use of the drug for “investigational” Covid-19 treatment following intense lobbying from some primary care physicians who argue that the fusion of Ivermectin and nanosilver was effective in caring for patients.

In her weekly Covid-19 update, chief coordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said the drug should only be administered and dispensed in controlled environments with strict monitoring to avoid wanton and indiscriminate prescription and dispensing of such medicines.

This approach would protect patients from unethical and unsafe doses, as well as counterfeit products, including veterinary Ivermectin.

There is no evidence as yet from a controlled scientific study that the drug does work, but the specific conditions now in place will at least ensure that patients do not come to harm while investigations continue.

Last week, Zacc opened investigations into laboratories and individuals accused of issuing certificates declaring a person free of Covid-19 without carrying out any tests, thus allowing potentially infected people to travel and interact with others, allowing the virus to spread.

There have been reports that at least one private laboratory and some State laboratories, or at least staff at these laboratories, have been issuing certificates and sets of fake results without doing the required test.

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