AUTHORITIES in Arusha have cracked the whip by shutting down four pharmacies and revoking the licence of one, in the wake of a realisation that, that segment of the medical sector had lately hosted ‘death machines’.
The Arusha Urban District Medical Officer (DMO), Dr Simon Chacha, revealed here that during recent routine inspections, it emerged that some drug stores were clandestinely functioning as hospitals by treating patients.
“Some of them were conducting minor surgeries, administering injections, and even offering shoddy in-patient services, manifestations of which included admitting patients to crumpled back rooms that passed for wards,” he said.
But the business angle most favoured by the operators of the drug stores was screening and testing customers for HIV-Aids. “That is even more serious, because drug stores are not fully equipped or licenced to diagnose diseases,” added the District Pharmacist, Dr Zephania Mtatiru.
With many Arusha residents fearing to confront medical practitioners in connection with ailments perceived as ‘shameful,’ most of them took refuge in the back rooms of drug stores, where operators promised to serve them in a scenario of absolute confidentiality, ‘rapid’ HIV-Aids testing being most pronounced.
Tools and equipment deployed by the pharmacy store operators left a lot to be desired, but banking heavily on the utter ignorance of their gullible clients, drug store owners here have been pocketing over 5000/- per person for HIV diagnosis, whose results were unreliable.
With between 50 and 100 people flocking to check their HIV-Aids status per drug store, pharmacy owners have been smiling all the way to the bank on a daily basis with cash between 300,000/- and 450,000/- earned from equally smiling patients sweet-tongued into believing that they were healthy, whereas they were in reality sick.
‘Good Medical Results,’ real or fabricated, are what are making pharmacy store medical diagnosis popular among local residents, but authorities say the racket is not only illegal but also dangerous, as it places the people’s lives at high risk. What’s more, according to medical officials here, HIVAids testing is supposed to be a free service to be offered across all hospitals and public medical outlets, yet drug store owners are charging people.
In-Home ‘OraQuick’ HIV Test and Home Access HIV- 1 Test System are some of the kits used by many people for private blood testing but before deploying them, they have to be approved by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority which operates a branch in Sakina.
Other individual testing kits are also available and sold at drug stores, but again, it is not known if they meet the TFDA benchmark. These include BioSure HIV Self-Test which uses one’s blood to test for HIV in about 15 minutes; Autotest VIH, which uses blood from fingertips.
Both are said to meet European quality standards and have CE markings. However, so far most have not been approved by TFDA and unless the authority endorses them, using the tests can be risky and may not provide accurate results.