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Johannesburg - Stealing ARV medication - available to patients at no cost - and selling it back to them is tantamount to sabotage, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Thursday.
“Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are life-saving drugs and if they are not given to an HIV-positive patient they lead to reduced level of compliance that leads to resistance,” Motsoaledi said in a statement.
“We call upon members of the public to be extra vigilant and report anybody who sells these drugs, as ARVs are offered to HIV-positive patients for free.”
Motsoaledi welcomed the arrest of two Gauteng health officials on Wednesday who allegedly sold ARV drugs on the streets of Johannesburg and surrounding areas.
Hawks' spokesman Captain Paul Ramoloka said the men were arrested in a sting operation in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on Wednesday after investigations that started in May.
The Hawks received information about the officials selling the medication from a person taking ARVs.
“Patients were turned down at the Esselen Street Clinic saying there were no more ARV drugs. Then they were later contacted by two general workers who said they could sell them some drugs,” he said.
Ramaloko said they were selling the medication - which was available at no cost to patients - for between R80 and R100 a box.
The Hawks' crime intelligence and flying squad arrested the men in Joubert Park on Wednesday after they sold the medication to undercover officers.
They faced charges of theft and possession of prescribed medication and would appear soon in the Hillbrow Magistrate's Court, said Ramaloko.
Motsoaledi said his department felt the charges were lenient because the theft of ARVs had far-reaching health implications.
Often the state was under fire for not having medication. The drugs were available but some officials were “sabotaging” the department's efforts, he said.
The Gauteng health department welcomed the arrests.
“ARV treatment is free to all patients in public health institutions. No one should be made to pay for them. Such incidents are alarming and cannot be allowed to continue,” MEC Hope Papo said.
Spokesman Simon Zwane said the department hoped that the investigations would help the department understand the theft that was taking place.
“Those implicated must face the consequences of their actions,” he said.
Zwane said the department would put measures in place to prevent a recurrence.
The Democratic Alliance in Gauteng also welcomed the arrests.
“It is disgusting that officials abuse their position and exploit the desperation of HIV/Aids patients,” provincial leader John Moodey said in a statement.
“The DA trusts that the officials will face the full might of the law.”
The City of Johannesburg welcomed the arrests and said it would support al investigations to ensure the successful prosecution of those implicated.
“The City of Johannesburg will be strengthening its internal control measures across all its health facilities to ensure that corruption and fraud is prevented and ensure that patients receive quality health care,” said Nonceba Molwele, a member of the mayoral committee for health and social development.
Molwele urged patients to use the complaints management system and to report corruption.