People clean up at a mall in the aftermath of looting. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
People clean up at a mall in the aftermath of looting. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Medicine looters face jail time of up to 10 years

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Aug 2, 2021

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Pretoria - While the health sector has warned looters who think they can cash in on stolen medical supplies that it is illegal as there are very strict provisions relating to the sale of these medicines, an attorney has warned that those who attempt to sell or keep them can face long jail terms.

Jan-Harm Swanepoel, an attorney at Adams and Adams, warned that Section 15(6a) of the Medicines and Related Substance Act contains very strict provisions relating to the sale of certain medicines and limitations as to the qualified individuals and entities who may do so.

The health sector earlier confirmed that 47 500 vaccines had been stolen and, if recovered, they would be destroyed.

Swanepoel said if an unqualified person is found to be administering Covid-19 vaccines in an unregulated environment they would face the full might of the law and possible jail time of up to 10 years.

“None of the looters or other individuals are permitted to sell the medicines or vaccines taken from sites during the unrest. This may seem obvious since these items were stolen, but the advantages of the strict provisions in the Medicines Act lie in identifying the goods as illegal items.”

Swanepoel explained that Section 19 prohibits the sale of medicines unless they complied with the prescribed requirements.

“Section 22A goes a step further and outlaws the mere possession of any medicine or scheduled substance in contravention of the prescribed conditions.

“Sections 29 and 30 criminalise the contravention of these sections and provide that an offender may be sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment upon conviction.”

He said the act provided strict compliance provisions for scheduled medicines because the abuse and unregulated use of them could have disastrous and even possibly fatal consequences.

“Imagine the risks in unqualified individuals administering Covid-19 vaccines in an unregulated environment, not to mention the likely scenario that these stolen vaccines were moved and stored in uncontrolled conditions. Adverse or even fatal reactions as a result might even lead to further arguments from sceptics advocating against vaccines,” he said.

Swanepoel said it was not as simple to clamp down on looters with unlawful medicine in their possession as it was to arrest people with, say, a new TV or fridge.

“From a practical perspective, the nature of these crimes (presumably offences of theft and charges relating to the possession of suspected stolen property) may require more extensive investigations and verification processes by the police to build and substantiate a strong case.

“The nature of scheduled medicines and vaccines and the statutory offences created by the act in this regard facilitate a more streamlined process in not only ensuring lawful seizures but also quicker and successful prosecutions.

“There are more pressing considerations: safeguarding the health of the public and preventing further black market and counterfeiting activities.”

Swanepoel added that the vaccines stolen during the looting provided the opportunity for criminals to duplicate all the information and details of the authorised vaccines (possibly up to the batch numbers).

“With a third wave of infections and the delayed vaccine rollout, there is a high demand in both South Africa and other African countries for Covid-19 vaccines. With the looted vaccines, there is a sought-after product potentially in the hands of the wrong people.”

He said it was vital law enforcement clamped down on the medicine looters. “Collaboration between the authorities and the private sector has seemingly been effective in combating the looting”.

Pretoria News

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