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Illegal drug scandal hits NDA

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th October 2002 03:00 AM

FOLLOWING the discovery last week of three containers of illegally imported anti-malarial drugs in a Kampala depot, investigations have begun.

FOLLOWING the discovery last week of three containers of illegally imported anti-malarial drugs in a Kampala depot, investigations have begun.

Sources said that NDA officials are being investigated for inconsistency in pursuing NDA statutory policies

By Emmy Allio

FOLLOWING the discovery last week of three containers of illegally imported anti-malarial drugs in a Kampala depot, investigations have begun.
The containers were from a Chinese Pharma-ceutical factory, Ningbo No.2, which had been blacklisted by the Natio-nal Drug Authority (NDA) for producing drugs under dirty conditions.
The Police, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Special Revenue Protection Services (SRPS) immediately began investigations into the conduct of the top leadership of the NDA, the statutory body that regulates and monitors the importation, exportation and use of drugs in Uganda.
The Police and SRPS last week arrested, questioned and released on bond three NDA employees, an agent with a clearing firm and an Asian pharmacist for attempting to get some of the drugs from Maersk, the clearing agent at 7th Street, Industrial Area, Kampala. The drugs, Radigenta (quinine injections) and Radichlor injectables, were de-registered from use in Uganda by the NDA Quality Control Laboratory.
Last Friday, the head of Makerere University’s pharmacy school, Mr. Erima Owino, was questioned for five hours at the offices of the SRPS in Bukoto. Owino, also an NDA board member, was queried over the tests he undertook on the controversial drugs.
Security organisations have also locked the stores of Radium Pharmacy Limited on Plot 42, Rashid Khamis Road, Old Kampala. The pharmacy is run by Aziz Damani, half-brother of a city tycoon who has a chain of business interests in Uganda, including hotels.

Top security sources said the illegal drug racket has operated for about four years, and that the UPDF has been one of the chief beneficiaries of the drug.
The Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Li Quingumin, has written to the Minister of State for Health, Capt. Mike Mukula, over the issue of why drugs from his country are being queried, and asking Uganda to remember the 40 years of good relations between China and Uganda.
In his letter, Quingumin said his country’s State Drug Administration (the equivalent of Uganda’s NDA), had verified that the drugs from Nangbo factory were good and manufactured according to internationally recognised Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The letter was copied to the NDA and the health minister, Brig Jim Muhwezi.
“Due to cultural differences, Uganda and China adopt different rules and methods of administration, which might cause inconveniences for pharmaceutical trading,” he said. He added that China’s GMP is not inferior, and that since China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO), its factories are meeting the GMP standards.
Sources said NDA chairman Dr. William Nganwa and acting executive secretary/registrar Dr. J.C. Lule, are being investigated for inconsistency in pursuing NDA statutory policies.
Other sources link the recent sudden transfer and replacement of the head of the Anti-Narcotic Unit (ANU) Johnson Ayela, to conflicting interests within the police over the investigation of illegal drugs.
Ayela, now deputy commander of Police Training School, Masindi, was said to have been investigating the same case at the time when a senior Police officer, who owns a pharmacy, had his pharmacy closed by the NDA. The police officer is said to have broken the NDA padlock and obdurately resumed trade.
The statute that established the NDA, stipulates that any importer or exporter of drugs must first furnish NDA with a list of the drugs to be imported or exported. In case of importation, the intending importer is expected to furnish NDA with a proforma containing the list of drugs and its manufacturers. Then an NDA team must visit the factory and certify that it satisfies conditions set by the internationally recognised GMP, the global standard of measurement for pharmaceutical industries.
The events that led to the bust of the illegal drug racket on October 21, are said to have started in 1999, when the suspected pharmacist Aziz Damani was interdicted. This followed a report of the NDA disciplinary and recommendation committee on the Multi-brothers saga compiled from July to September 1999.
But for four years, NDA shelved their recommendations Aziz Damanio and Radium Pharmacy and seemingly turned a blind eye to the anomalies in the pharmacy’s operations. During this time, Damani imported tons of drugs from Ningbo No.2 Pharmaceutical Factory.

In 1999, when Radium presented a proforma for importation of drugs, NDA leaders Dr. Nganwa, Dr. Lule and Mubangizi, the chief inspector of drugs, flew to China to inspect the Ningbo factory. The NDA leaders presented their report on Ningbo on May 22, 2001, 15 months after their returned from China.
The report stated that the Ningbo factory had scored 67% of GMP, 3% less than the 70% mark specified by the global body. The report penalised the factory for “No pest control programme, checklist not comprehensive, scales and weighing pans rusty and more places were flooded with poor drainage.”
Consequently, on August 5, 2002, a special senior management meeting of the NDA sat, under Dr. Lule’s chairmanship and recommended that “products of Ningbo in the country be de-registered, and Ningbo products would no longer be imported into Uganda, including those on the high seas.”
In a communication to Ningbo on August 7, referenced 1236/SR/NDA/2002, Lule wrote: “We regret to inform you that the factory was found not to comply with GMP and hence not suitable for the manufacture to Uganda of drugs.”
Aware of the appaling standard of their factory, Ningbo began to build a new factory, which may be opened next year, sources said. To buttress the resolutions of the management meeting, Lule on September 6, 2002 wrote to NDA’s chief inspector of drugs and the verification committee, and said: “The importers dealing with this factory should be advised not to import further products from Ningbo factory in China, until the new factory is opened.”
As NDA managers met, Radium had already imported three containers of Radigenta and Radichlor injectables worth over $300,000. Radium went ahead to violate NDA policy regulations by writing to the NDA on August 4, 2002, requesting for a verification of their drugs already in the country.
On September 12, an Imported Goods Rejec-tion Report was issued, and the drugs were de-registered in Uganda.
A row then erupted in NDA leadership over how Radium’s consignment with Maersk should be handled. Many NDA board members wanted the drugs to be re-exported. The same drugs were being imported from Ningbo by Sino Africa and Astra Pharmacies in Kampala.

On October 3, 2002, Lule circulated an internal memo copied to the chairman and chief inspector of drugs on the subject. The memo read: “Please carry out the tests which are routinely performed as part of mandatory analysis. Tests on Sterling and Cenquam in South Africa had been sounded out on this possibility.”
Sources in NDA said the memo was suggestive that the drugs could easily have been cleared for use in Uganda if test results were positive. “Some of us could not stand this malpractice of treating our people with rejected drugs,” one NDA source said. But in a sharp reply, the Chief Drug Quality Analyst, Mr. Kakwemeire, said the National Drug Quality Control Laboratory does not analyse drugs which are not registered for use in Uganda.
As the bickering in the NDA continued, the Police, URA and SRPS learnt of the rejected drugs and quickly placed a surveillance team around Maersk.
In a letter to NDA of October 21, referenced URA/ACTI/DRUGS/2002, Geoffrey Tindimwebwa in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Tax Investigations, URA, wanted to know about the status of the drugs at the Maersk stores.
On October 18, a joint meeting of SRPS and URA resolved that Nganwa and Lule be investigated for developing vested interests in Nangbo and Radium. It recommended investigations on the two for “withholding the inspection report on the Nangbo factory for 15 months.”
They are also being investigated for trying to clear the drugs for use in Uganda. The meeting attended by Capt. Leni Mugalu of SRPS and Tindimwebwa resolved that Lule and Nganwa should not be the appropriate authorities to request for samples and oversee any testing, even if it were relevant. The meeting also requested a team of ESO, ISO, URA, CID and SRPS to urgently meet over the NDA saga and establish why Nganwa and Lule were pressing for release of the illegal drugs. SRPS were asked to compile the data on Radium’s imports for the past six months.
But on October 21, an attempt to grab some of the illegal drugs from Maersk stores for testing was foiled when the police arrested an NDA official, M. Kaddu, a clearing agent, Godfrey Tusubira from Three-Ways group of companies, and a Radium Pharmacy official, Ketan Bartwal.
The SRPS spokesman, Lt. Bahoku Barigye, said: “We are investigating this case with the office of the Inspector General of Police. We are investigating the imports on drugs from the Chinese pharmaceutical factory. The health of Ugandans is of much concern to us.”
A letter to the CID chief from the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Julius Odwe, of October 22, referenced CID/N-40/45/01, titled “Alleged sub-standard/unauthorised importation of drugs from China,” asked the Criminal Investigations Department to hasten their investigations.
“Make sure to conclude the investigations so that the Director of Public Prosecutions provides advice on the next course of action,” said Odwe in the letter copied to the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, the health minister, the DPP and the Principal Private Secretary to President Yoweri Museveni.
It stated that: “In order to cover some wrong elements, some NDA defaulters are trying to harass their juniors and also trying to carry out tests of the drugs that are in question and yet this may not reflect the truth on the drug qualities.”
Odwe said: “To make it worse, some companies which import these drugs were targeting the UPDF tender which means that UPDF would rely on fake drugs for their officers and families.”
But in an exclusive interview with Nganwa, the latter said there were no anomalies in the importation of the drugs. He accused some people of resisting the testing of the drugs because such people fear to know the truth that the drugs are not fake.
He said he was not part of the team that visited Ningbo factory in China but was in China to hold talks with Chinese medical authorities on how to promote trade between the two countries. He said he returned to Kampala after a week and after, Lule and Mubangizi visited the factory.
About the delay in releasing the report, Nganwa said: “The report from China could not be compiled alone since there were other reports from visits to other factories in Nigeria and South Africa. Later, Mubangizi went to South Africa for studies and Lule was really busy.”
He said the position of the NDA is that “the drugs are neither sub-standard nor okay and there is reason to condemn the drugs.” The truth will be known after the tests
Nganwa said NDA’s decision will be known after the test results of the technical committee which sent samples of the drugs to the World Health Organisation’s collaborating laboratory in South Africa. He said the test in South Africa is at the cost of the importer.
But other sources point to a power struggle in the NDA over who should fill the vacant post of the Executive Secretary. Sources said some senior members of NDA were among those interviewed for the vacant post.
The former Executive Secretary, Abbas Kabogo, and two other senior NDA officials, Zaina Ndora and Gideon Kisuule, were interdicted in July 1999. Kabogo was charged with abuse of office and importation of drugs without a licence and obstructing an inspecting officer, contrary to NDA and police statutes. Ends

Illegal drug scandal hits NDA

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