Reports of drug shops and clinics operating illegally are common in the country. It is surprising that such drug stores continue to operate, moreover with national monitoring bodies in place.
Worse still, some of the stores sell counterfeit drugs to unsuspecting Ugandans, thus putting lives at risk.
On Saturday, this newspaper reported that authorities in Ntungamo District closed down 15 drug shops and clinics for lack of operational licences or being run by unlicensed and unprofessional people.
The operation that led to the arrest of five health workers suspected to be operating without licences, also made a crucial discovery: some of the clinics were selling government drugs.
This is simply unacceptable! First, it is wrong to operate a drug store without licence; and second, the illegal drug stores are stocked with drugs stolen from government health facilities.
The health centres from which the drugs are stolen, are the same facilities where patients can’t get treatment because the medicine shelves are empty.
According to Ntungamo District drug inspector Apollo Bwendero, the crackdown was to ensure drug stores and clinic adhere to the National Drug Authority (NDA) regulations and medical rules on establishing and operating drug shops and clinics.
While this is commendable, NDA, whose functions, among others, include dealing with the development and regulation of the pharmacies and drugs in the country and controlling the quality of drugs; should do more to promote vigilance.
Stories of illegal drug stores are not new. This should give monitoring authorities key pointers in dealing with the issue once and for all.
For instance, in June last year, NDA arrested 12 people and closed down more than 160 illegal drug shops and clinics in Lango sub-region during a one-week operation in which 250 drug shops and clinics were inspected. The affected drug shops had failed to observe minimum operational standards; others were found selling government drugs suspected to have been stolen from public health facilities in their private clinics and drug shops.
There are several cases where, lamentably, some so-called clinics are being operated by unqualified people who call themselves ‘doctors’. In February, the Allied Health Professionals Council (AHPC) arrested four people with forged registration certificates.
NDA and other related agencies such as AHPC should intensify and sustain operations aimed at weeding out unscrupulous individuals from the health sector. Such people put lives at risk for several reasons. They operate illegally and are, therefore, more likely to sell expired drugs; and they give wrong prescriptions because they are not trained health professionals. It is time to end this mess in the health sector.