Police in the Free State say they have seized a large quantity of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) worth nearly R2-million and arrested a number of people.
Almost 1 300 containers of the medication were found in the possession of a group of seven people, who were apparently intending to sell them to a potential buyer from Welkom.
However, police got wind of the impending transaction and went to an address in Kroonstad, where they found the suspects – five men and two women – with the haul of ARVs. All were arrested and a vehicle they were using was confiscated.
Contravention of Medicine Act
According to police spokesperson, Brigadier Motantsi Makhele, the ARVs have an estimated value of just over R1,9-million.
“Four suspects are from Sebokeng in Vereeniging, one is a Lesotho citizen staying in Welkom, one is from Phuthaditjhaba and the other one from Theunissen,” Makhele said.
All of those arrested will be charged with Contravention of Medicine Act and will appear in the Kroonstad Magistrate’s court soon.
Other ARV thefts reported
In February this year, Durban police arrested two people in connection with the theft of ARVs from a vehicle.
And in January 2020, Free State police arrested two suspects for being in possession of 1 068 bottles of ARVs worth R1.2million. One was an employee at Robert Mjobo clinic in the Eastern Cape.
A report in the Durban-based Daily News newspaper in February quoted Department of Health spokesperson, Popo Maja, as saying he hoped the police investigations would shed light on why criminals were targeting ARVs, which are used to treat HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Used in illegal narcotics?
“We are concerned that patients are being robbed of public health resources. We applaud the arrests and the police. At this stage we don’t know what these ARVs are used for after being stolen. At this stage we don’t want to speculate,” Maja told the Daily News.
According to a 2016 report in Medical Brief, a South African medical industry news portal, ARVs are illegally sold to drug dealers who use them in a concoction for the popular street drug whoonga, which is a mixture of heroin, cocaine and dagga.
The report said, in part: “Whoonga is a drug cocktail in South Africa rumoured to contain illicit drugs and HIV antiretroviral (ARV) medication. Although its use may adversely impact adherence to HIV treatment and may have the potential to generate ARV resistance, there is a paucity of research characterising whoonga.”