Stealing from the Sick: Hospital Fortifies Medicine Storeroom after 2 years of Thefts

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The hospital’s drug storeroom.

The storeroom where the medicines of the Upper East Regional Hospital are kept is currently receiving burglarproof remodelling to prevent further thefts.

Drugs continually went missing in massive quantities from the public hospital, causing shortages at its internal pharmacies for two years, until a Media Without Borders investigation led to the arrests of some staff last year for stealing the hospital’s drugs.

On the night a Bolgatanga police team arrested one of the staff, the hospital’s administrator, Samuel Azure Atuba, confirmed that the hospital had suffered from the stealing “for the past two years”.

The state of work on the hospital’s drug storeroom as of Wednesday, 19 June 2024.

Atuba told the author of this report last month that the hospital’s management had taken the necessary measures to secure the medicine storeroom.

But not until last week did the public in the region’s capital, Bolgatanga, see artisans fixing a roller shutter, an iron door and security window bars to the storeroom.

A side view of the storeroom.

The hospital’s management reportedly had told the Attorney-General’s Office, who is prosecuting the hospital staff at the circuit court in Bolgatanga for stealing among other charges, that it had installed surveillance cameras at the storeroom.

No such camera could be seen around the storeroom when Media Without Borders paid a checkup visit to the hospital on three occasions, the latest of which happened today, June 19.

The work started last week.

During one of the visits on Tuesday, 28 May 2024, this author asked the administrator if the management had installed surveillance cameras in the storeroom. He neither confirmed nor denied it, citing security reasons.

But he insisted that “measures had been put in place” to protect things in the storeroom.

The author of this report tracked unauthorised movements of medicines from the hospital during late-night hours during an investigation that started in 2022.

How the storeroom was before the remodelling work started.

He finally led the Divisional Police Command in Bolgatanga on the night of Friday, 4 August 2023, to the near-abandoned private residence where the stolen not-for-sale medicines were always kept pending transportation to the Northern region to be sold there.

Raymond Asoke, a driver at the hospital, was packing the medicines in boxes from the building into a red car when the police arrived and arrested him that night.

Fasilat Raheem, the hospital’s storekeeper who asked Asoke to pack the medicines from that residence and released her car for that purpose, was arrested the same night at home.

The following morning, Bridget Banoeyelle, a dispensary officer at the hospital’s main pharmacy, was picked up. Thirty-four boxes of assorted medicines were retrieved from them.

From left: Raymond Asoke, Fasilat Raheem and Bridget Banoeyelle.

The three hospital staff were held in police custody and put before the circuit court on Monday, 7 August 2023. Police said the suspects declined to mention the entities that had been buying the stolen drugs.

The accused persons were remanded into police custody for two weeks and remanded again on their second appearance for another two weeks before they were granted bail.

Two people who could have provided state prosecutors with some information on the case died mysteriously one month apart.

Thirty-four boxes of medicines supplied by the Ministry of Health (MoH) were retrieved from the accused persons.

Mercy Alagpulinsa, a trader who was close to one of the accused persons, died on Tuesday, 15 August 2023. She was taken ill just one hour after she honoured an invitation for a private meeting by a husband to one of the accused persons and died hours later at the Upper East Regional Hospital.  

Samuel Amoateng Saffoh, the head of the hospital’s pharmacy department, died on Saturday, 23 September 2023, two days after vowing to get to the bottom of the massive drug theft scandal and set up his audit team to make good on that solemn promise.

Mercy Alagpulinsa and Samuel Amoateng Saffoh.

Members of the public went on a street demonstration on Friday, 18 August 2023, strongly warning political and traditional authorities not to interfere in the criminal trial of the three healthcare workers and urged the police to go after other members of the cartel.

On Thursday, 4 April 2024, one of the lawyers for the accused persons, Lwanga Saanyeh Bagonluri, wrote a letter to the Attorney-General’s Office, requesting a plea bargain negotiation on behalf of the accused persons. The letter came after state prosecutors had filed their disclosures, including evidence provided by Media Without Borders, in court against the accused persons.

The hospital’s outpatient department.

“The Accused Persons were charged as per the charge sheet and they both pleaded Not Guilty but upon a sober reflection, I have advised based on law that we approach this case with lots of respect, sincerity and honesty on the part of the accused persons herein.

“That while the charges stand against the accused persons, and in the spirit of Truth, Honesty, Transparency, Accountability and Probity, the Accused pleads [sic] guilty to the charges. That the accused persons agree to pay a refund of the whole amount charged against them, [which] is restitution,” the letter stated.

The first page of the letter.

The letter added: “The accused persons agree to pay a compensation of Gh¢1,000.00 to the hospital. It is with a deep sense of apology and regret on the part of the accused persons herein that I communicate to you. I am on my knees counting on your cooperation.”

The second page of the letter.

The case was last called in court on Tuesday, 11 June 2024. There was no deliberation because one of the lawyers for the accused persons was absent. So, it was adjourned to Thursday, 11 July 2024.

The Upper East Regional Hospital, Bolgatanga.

The hospital suspended the three hospital workers last year by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures in the aftermath of the Media Without Borders investigation and police arrests.

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/

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