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GH¢237m Drugs Burnt In Tema Fire

Medical supplies worth GH¢237,798,077 were consumed by the Tuesday fire outbreak at the Tema Central Medical Stores at the heavy industrial area where the country's health commodities are kept.

This was disclosed after a crunch meeting between the Health Minister, Dr Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah, and his technical committee on the outbreak of the fire that razed down the medical stores.

The incident destroyed commodities including essential medicines, medical consumables, medical equipment, HIV/AIDS medicines and test kits, anti-malaria medicines and test kits, TB medicines, EPI consumables, insecticide treated bed nets, condoms and Ebola protective equipment.

'It is very unfortunate, but estimated total cost of items destroyed by the fire outbreak is GH¢237,798,077,' Dr Agyemang-Mensah said at a press conference in Accra.

Meanwhile, as at press time yesterday, the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) was yet to fully extinguish the ravaging fire as smoke had still engulfed certain portions of the gutted structure.

The disaster is purported to have started from incinerated rubbish close to the stores—the biggest medical distribution outlet which circulate medicines and consumables to all public health institutions across the country.

The minister said the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) had joined the investigations being carried out by the GNFS into the fire outbreak.

'This investigation, together with the investigation that the Ghana National Fire Service is undertaking, will inform us of what happened. Let me assure every Ghanaian that the ministry will follow this to the letter and anybody found culpable in this will be made to face the full rigors of the law,' Dr Agyemang-Mensah stressed.

He said arson could not be said to be the cause of the fire as investigations were ongoing.

'On 7th January the committee set up to investigate management of the stores presented their report and made some statement to the effect that some commodities were shipped out of the central medical stores without proper documentation and others shipped to some destinations did not get there so we don't know, we should wait for proper investigations to be conducted,' he revealed.

Dr Agyemang-Mensah further noted that the inclusion of the national security in the investigation was because the facility, 'as you are aware, is a public property which has been destroyed and we are aware that the national fire service will come out with a report on the cause of the fire. But to be on a safer side, it will be better to let the professionals come in to rule it out for us.'

Mitigation Measures
The health minister said the occurrence would not in any way affect healthcare delivery in the country as all regional medical stores had enough stock that could last for two to three months.

'Let me use this opportunity to allay the fears of Ghanaians that this will not in any way affect drug supply,' he assured.

He maintained that measures had also been put in place for all regional stores to be insured as a matter of urgency, while local pharmaceutical suppliers and international drug supply chain were being contacted to ship in new drug consignments and other medical supplies.

'The ministry has put in place a temporary warehouse to be used to store supplies that are in transit to supplement those at the regional stores,' he said.

Speaking to DAILY GUIDE , the acting Head of the Public Affairs Department of GNFS, Ellis Robinson Okoh, said proper warehouse keeping ethics required that everything should be segregated, but the opposite was the case at the central medical stores where stationery, plastics and chemicals had all been put together.

'We will make sure we investigate if they have fire certificate. They have mixed everything together at the warehouse—carbon, condom and other very highly inflammable chemicals,' he observed.

According to him, 'Although the top debris burnt, when the wind blows it touches the unburnt material under and reignites the fire again. The weather is a challenging factor.'

Mark Owen Woyongo, the Interior Minister, who visited the site, said his outfit had given the GNFS and the police by the close of the week to conclude preliminary investigation in order to know what really caused the fire.

There are speculations that the place was deliberately set on fire after a committee was set up to investigate some underhand dealings there relating to missing drugs as well as importation of expired drugs.

The committee had just submitted its report and the minister was on the verge of going through it when the tragedy struck, raising suspicion that the fire was deliberately set to obviate evidence of any malfeasance.

 By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri & Vincent Kubi

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