Pakistani Officials Investigate ‘Embezzlement’ of HIV Testing Kits
Officials with the Pakistani National Institutes of Health announced April 14 that the agency would investigate reports of the "alleged embezzlement" of HIV testing kits donated to the country's National AIDS Program by the World Health Organization, the Lancet reports. A government audit reported earlier this year that NIH staff members had illegally sold to private laboratories 325 kits, which had been sent to the agency's headquarters in Islamabad and are worth approximately $40,000 to $60,000. An NIH lab technician, Bilal Ahmed Malik, admitted to stealing the tests in a letter to the executive director of the NIH and the federal director general of health. He also accused three other staff members of taking part in the black market ring. Malik has not been arrested or charged with the crime, but has been asked to "explain" his actions. According to a member of the audit team, the NIH has not "officially" responded to the report, despite Malik's public confession and a series of "scathing" media reports charging that the NAP's HIV/AIDS surveillance data was "fictitious" because a "good portion" of the tests were being sold and not being performed as claimed. Birjees Mazhar Kazi, the country manager for the NAP, has "refuted" the auditor's claims and said that the "missing kits are not HIV/AIDS kits" but tests for hepatitis B. He also called the reports an attempt to "challenge" the agency's data and to "damage" the NAP. Kazi added that the NAP has performed almost 2.5 million HIV tests since 1985 and has diagnosed 1,550 cases of HIV and 202 AIDS cases. UNAIDS estimates that Pakistan has 80,000 HIV-positive residents and classifies it as a high risk/low prevalence area. That status could change "quickly" and needs "close monitoring" because 63% of the country's population of 130 million is under the age of 25, an age group at a higher risk of contracting the disease, the Lancet reports. Established in 1988, the NAP has seen a decline in "political commitment" and funding in recent years. In 1997 the agency received only half of its proposed budget of $816,000 (Ahmed, Lancet, 4/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.