Fake HIV cure peddlers handed K2.4 million fines each

The Magistrate’s Court in Mangochi on Wednesday, 13th March 2024, ordered two women found guilty on six counts bordering on violation of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Act and the Pharmacy and Medicines Regulatory Authority (PMRA) Act to pay fines totalling K2,450,000 or in default serve a two-year jail term.

Senior Resident Magistrate Muhammad Chande ordered Mary Saidi (25) and Molly Kainga (34) to pay the fines based on their own pleas of guilty entered on Wednesday, 6th March 2024.

The following are the fines per count:

1. Tampering with the medicine labels contrary to section 106 (1) of the PMRA Act. – K700,000 fine or 24 months imprisonment in default.

2. Keeping medicines on unlicensed premises contrary to sections 86 and 95 (1b) of the PMRA Act, No. 9 of 2019 – K350,000 fine or one year imprisonment.

3. Dealing in medical supplies without an appropriate Pharmaceutical license contrary to section 56 of the PMRA Act, No. 9 of 2019 – K350,000 or in default six months imprisonment.

4. Advertising medicinal products without authorization contrary to Section 68 of the PMRA Act, No. 9 of 2019 – K350,000 or in default one year imprisonment.

5. Proclaiming, publishing misleading, false or inaccurate information concerning HIV and AIDS contrary to section 25 of HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Act of 9 of 2018 – K350,000 or in default one year imprisonment.

6. Obtaining money through theft by trick contrary to section 321 of the penal code – K350,000 or in default one year jail term.

The Magistrate said the court considered the gravity of the offences before meting out the sentences. These included the fact that in being lured to use the fake drug some people living with HIV might have stopped accessing and using effective treatment, including ARVs.

The default sentences are to run concurrently, which means the longest the two can stay in prison is two years.

The two used to buy Gentamicin from pharmacies and replaced the stickers with those of Gamorah.

Facts presented in court indicate that the two were aware that what they were selling was not a cure for HIV and they did not want to meet their “clients” for fear of being identified.

Caution statements the prosecution presented in court indicate further that the two together sold their fake drugs to 16 people with Saidi saying she raked in between K800,000 and K900,000 from the unsuspecting individuals living with HIV.

The case has generated enormous interest as it is the first arrest and successful prosecution of people publishing false, inaccurate and misleading information on HIV.

It follows a complaint by National AIDS Commission after a Tik Tok video, in which Saidi advertised the fake drug, went viral.

PMRA and officers from the drug enforcement unit of the Malawi Police Service followed up the complaint, leading to the arrest of the two.

This sentencing was pronounced in the same week as another case bordering on discrimination as a violation of the HIV and AIDS Act, in Balaka, where Henry Nazombe was ordered to pay Anet Matumba K65,000 compensation for calling her “wa Edzi”.

The sentence was meted out on Monday, 11th March 2024. Nazombe remained in custody because he failed to immediately pay the compensation.

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