October 30, 2015
AJS investigations have brought to light another intolerable waste of money by the Honduran government in its management of the public health system — this time, it was letting $1 million worth of medications for HIV patients expire in the government-run warehouse.
In 2011, the Honduran government made an odd procurement: it increased the purchased amount of two antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients by more than 300 percent compared to other recent annual purchases.
Chart demonstrating dramatic increase in purchase of two medications for HIV patients. The chart was made using AJS’s Open Medicines database (see below).
If the drugs were properly distributed for use, this may not have been a bad thing — but they weren’t. A total of $2.19 million worth of medications were ordered in 2011. By March of last year, 47 percent of that purchase expired unused in a government warehouse.
As many Hondurans go neglected and under-treated by the government’s problematic health system, such waste is infuriating and inexcusable.
By investigating and publishing the findings through our Spanish-language journalism website, AJS publically called out a well-connected Honduran politician (currently serving in the national congress as a member of the ruling National Party) who was acting as the minister of health during the time of the purchase.
Pushing past officials who simply pointed fingers or dodged quests, AJS investigators fought to get their hands on government records that could tell the truth. When the ministry of health claimed that the medications expired because they were confiscated by the attorney general, AJS dug up records that caught the ministry in its own lie.
AJS continues to investigate this case and others in the public health system to expose corruption and seek justice. Among the cases that AJS has been helping to observe and assist with are those of a high-profile scandal involving the former head of the social security institute who embezzled $200 million of public funds.
As AJS investigators uncovered more about this specific HIV medication case, they also brought attention to additional irregularities — such as a former governor (now congressperson) who made $3 million of “donations” of HIV treatment medications to two hospitals.
To help track and compare the purchase of medications mentioned in this article, our journalism team used an open, online, interactive database that they developed themselves. The database is called Medicamentos Abiertos (Open Medicines), and is designed for journalists, watchdogs, and citizens to help keep the government accountable.
More than 22,500 Honduras are HIV positive. Despite comprising only 17 percent of the population of Central America, Honduras accounts for 60 percent of the region’s HIV cases. With the stakes so high and the need so strong, waste and incompetence are unacceptable. Additionally, last summer, HIV/AIDS victim advocates in Honduras accused the government of still distributing the expired medications.
Five years ago, AJS began investigating corruption in the purchase and distribution of medicine in Honduras’ public health care system. Among the findings of these investigations was that the government was purchasing medications at a price markup of 1,000 percent.
It’s estimated that the government wasted about $95 million in overpayments for the health system for items like ambulances, IT equipment, medical equipment, and travel expenses. One example is that of hospital beds that were worth about $5,000 and were being bought for $54,000.
Additionally, about $85,000 worth of theft occurred in the government warehouse from 2011-2012.
Poor quality and counterfeit medicine were also being distributed for use to citizens. After hearing about a popular heart pressure medication that was proving ineffective, AJS helped discover that the medication was essentially composed of chalk dust and that government officials were being bribed to fake test results for the medication.
Through investigations, legal cases, and advocacy campaigns — AJS has helped spur reforms in the government health system. AJS helped prosecute 13 individuals for their involvement in these abuses of power — including the former minister of health and the director of the government warehouse.
Seeking justice requires more than just pointing to and punishing wrongs; it also requires pursuing solutions. AJS worked with officials to improve their systems in order to help prevent the continuation of corruption. AJS’s actions led to improvements in the government warehouse, which a recent inspection by AJS and the United Nations found to be still in place. Additionally, the United Nations is now helping to coordinate the purchase of medication in Honduras, with AJS acting as an observer in the process.