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Malaria drugs stolen from Africa's poorest

Families turning up at Uganda’s hospitals are being sent away to buy their own anti-malarial drugs because widespread government corruption and theft of drugs.

Despite the central African country being given £20m worth of anti-malarials, huge quantities are being stolen from hospitals to be sold on the black market.

This is stopping the very poorest people in Uganda from getting treatment for the preventable disease that kills 300 people in the country every day.

An investigation by Channel 4's Unreported World reveals how Ugandan health officials have sold the pills on the black market, and organised crime gangs are behind a smuggling operation with Kenya.

The investigation starts in the town of Apac. Surrounded by a vast mosquito-infested swamp, it's the malaria capital of the world. People there are bitten on average six times a night, the highest rate anywhere, according to Channel 4. Every week more than 5,000 malaria patients turn up at the local hospital.

Harriet, 24, is one. Convulsing as her desperate relatives try to pin her down, she has cerebral malaria, the most deadly strain. Her mother says the disease has already torn their family to pieces as Harriet has already lost three children to malaria.

Many of the Malaria patients are under five and the children’s ward is overflowing. The team meet a mother cradling the body of her six-week-old daughter. Her father, Jasper, says the hospital has run out of medicine to treat malaria patients.

In the pharmacy, there's only one box of anti-malarial drugs left. People wanting treatment have to go outside to buy the medicine they need. "If you can't pay for the drugs, you die,” says the pharmacist.

In the last nine months, a government investigation unit has made more than 100 arrests and seized more than £1.5m worth of anti-malarials. People convicted include government health workers and three senior Health Ministry officials who manage the national malaria control programme.

Reducing malaria deaths is one of the eight key Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders. Billions has been spent on achieving this target but still nearly a million people die from the disease each year, most of them in Africa.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said at the United Nations last week that Britain would treble the amount it spends on tackling malaria in Africa to £500m a year.
Unreported World. Uganda: Malaria Town was on Channel 4, at 7.30pm on Friday.

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