Honduran authorities discovered over US$2 million in expired medicines in storage in the country's social security institute, which is also currently embroiled in another corruption scandal, national newspaper La Tribuna reported.
According to La Tribuna, various sectors of the social security body, known as IHSS, purposefully left medicines to expire in order to benefit economically from new tenders.
The find comes at the same time hospitals are suffering severe drug and funding shortages, while Honduran nurses have denounced difficult working conditions and their inability to deliver needed care to hundreds of patients.
“With high temperatures beneficiaries continue the slow process of making medical appointments in the Social Security Institute.”
The revelation adds another layer to the ongoing corruption scandal involving the IHSS, where President Juan Orlando Hernandez and his National Party are accused of receiving US$90 million of over US$200 million embezzled from the public body. The funds alleged benefitted the National Party's 2013 election campaign, where Hernandez narrowly defeated LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro amid claims of election fraud.
On Wednesday Hernandez announced new measures to “combat corruption and impunity,” including “supervision and support” for the attorney general and judiciary, security for judges, and business models “governed by transparency.” Despite weeks of popular calls for the establishment of a U.N. anti-corruption and anti-impunity body similar to Guatemala's CICIG, Honduran and U.N. officials have yet to respond.
Backing this project is ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who traveled to Washington to meet with the new Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to lobby for CICIH, a Honduran international commission against impunity.
“In Washington today on the installation of CICIH in Honduras against impunity and the absence of justice.”
Last week, Honduran authorities deployed army personnel to hospital storehouses to ensure that needed medicines would be delivered to patients. Hernandez said these steps aimed at "disbanding the mafias that have controlled the system of storage, distribution, delivery and acquisition of medicines," the Associated Press quoted. Military officials were tasked with undertaking an inventory check as part of the plan.
Also last week, Honduran prosecutors linked National Party legislator and Congress Vice President Lena Gutierrez, three of her family members, and 12 other employees of IHSS and the Gutierrez family-owned medicine distribution company Astropharma to the public health scandal, accusing them of fraud and document falsification.
Hernandez has admitted his National Party has received funding from corrupt sources, but has denied personal responsibility.
Last summer, the Honduran government announced US$35 million in cuts to the 2015 national health system budget, as well as funding cuts to the country's two principal public hospitals. Since then, thousands of patients, including some 32,000 HIV positive people, have suffered the impacts of drug shortages and a nurse-to-patient ratio about 9 times smaller than the international standard. A recent government announcement of a plan to decentralize national hospitals has also prompted criticism of the government condemning its inefficiency and move toward healthcare privatization.
“For my future, out with Juan Orlando Hernandez.”
The recent corruption scandal has prompted ongoing popular protests and calls for the resignation of Hernandez, including weekly torch-lit anti-corruption marches across the country.
Massive protests are expected this weekend as the country marks the sixth anniversary of the 2009 coup against democratically elected former President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. Hernandez' ruling National Party has been in power since the coup.