Four prominent doctors operating private surgeries in Mafeteng face prosecution for dispensing expired antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and antibiotics and operating under filthy conditions and without licences.
The doctors—Dr Piet McPherson, Dr Ntšinyi Makoa, Dr Mokiba Rathebe and Dr Cheng—are being charged with contravening Section 84 (1) of the Public Health Order No 12 of 1970.
The physicians were busted during a raid carried out by the police and Ministry of Health officials on 11 and 12 November.
According to letters written by the ministry’s Environment Health Division and copied to the Director-General Health Services, Chief Health Inspection, and Commissioner of Police, the doctors were given seven days, beginning 17 November, to put their houses in order. The police, on the other hand, yesterday told the Sunday Express that investigations into the doctors’ conduct were in progress and that they would be charged “according to the law”.
According to the letter written to Dr McPherson, his surgery was found with expired medication, which was “condemned and seized”, while the operating licence was not on display as required by the law. Dr McPherson is a former Health Ministry Acting Principal Secretary, and Director General, and was also Queen Elizabeth II Medical Superintendent. He is currently a board member of the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) which operates 79 healthcare facilities throughout the country. Dr McPherson is also Director of Clinical Services at Pitsong Institute of Operational Research, which is a local NGO.
On the other hand, Dr Rathebe’s surgery did not have a valid licence, was “dirty from the ceiling, walls and the floor”, and also had expired medication and drugs.
Dr Makoa’s surgery was also found with expired drugs which were condemned and seized, while “access to the operating licence was denied”.
Dr Chen’s surgery, operating as China Medical Service, was found “dirty from the ceiling, walls and floors; it had no operating licence; it had expired medication and drugs which were condemned and seized; there was no engagement of Health Technical Officers e.g qualified nurses and pharmacy personnel, and had no registration with the Lesotho Medical Dental and Pharmacy Council.”
According to a copy of the list of the medication the Sunday Express managed to obtain, some of the drugs, among them ARVs, expired as far back as 2004.
Contacted for comment, Dr McPherson denied ever giving patients expired drugs, insisting the medication was in a box awaiting disposal. He could not explain why medication which expired 11 years ago was still in his surgery.
Dr McPherson also threatened to sue the Sunday Express should his name be published regarding the raid, but pressed on what message of reassurance he wanted to convey to his patients as reassurance, the doctor angrily said: “I don’t have to panic about anything, or fear losing patients because I am not giving them expired drugs; I have nothing to hide.”
The Sunday Express also contacted Dr Makoa regarding the raid but said he was too busy to comment.
“I am busy; I don’t have time for this. I have patients to attend to and it seems your issue is going to take up all my time,” he said and terminated the conversation.
Attempts to get comments from Dr Rathebe and Dr Chen were in vain.
According to the Director of Pharmaceuticals in the Ministry of Health Medicines Regulatory Unit, Ms Gemina Mphoso, there was no reason why such medication should be on the shelves or in the surgery as the law was clear that it should be disposed of once it expires.
The Ministry of Health Principal Health Inspector Themba Fobo, who was part of the raid, told the Sunday Express that there was need to ensure such transgressions are heavily punished. Offenders are currently fined a paltry M25.
“The laws need to be reviewed as the penalty is too lenient and lets offenders get away with murder. The ministry has since drafted a Bill to address this but it has been shelved since 2011, where the suggested fine was set at M50 000 and a minimum prison term of 10 years,” Mr Fobo said.
Health Minister Dr ’Molotsi Monyamane, has however, said such surgeries should be shut down and their operators prosecuted.
Dr Monyamane told the Sunday Express: “These doctors should have known better, especially Dr McPherson who is very experienced and respected.
“To keep such expired medication is an offence and he knows it because he once headed public health services; he is an authority on this himself.
“This is absolute cruelty and a betrayal of our people. It is the duty of the police to close down those surgeries. This is a clear sign that our ministry is failing to control private medical operations, and our laws are an insult as they do not deter offenders.”
According to Dr Monyamane, it had since been discovered that Dr Chen is registered as “a traditional doctor” in his native China. The Sunday Express also found out some of Dr Chen’s seized drugs are strictly for the Chinese market.
“Look at him; here he is administering drugs that don’t even have dates and names, and he doesn’t even have a license. He should close shop before much damage is done to trusting and helpless lives,” Dr Monyamane said.
Police spokesperson Clifford Molefe yesterday told the Sunday Express the law would take its course regarding the doctors.
“The police are just waiting for the final technical report from the Ministry of Health, and once we have it, the law shall take its course and the offenders will be brought before the courts of law,” Senior Inspector Molefe said.