An investigation by the Auditor-General's Department has uncovered a major breakdown in critical areas of the Government Chemist Department including the improper disposal of pharmaceutical and toxicology samples which could pose a health risk.
The information is contained in a report tabled by the Auditor-General in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The Auditor-General’s investigation revealed that there was no system in place to dispose of expired, unanalyzed and used sample at the Government Chemist Department, located at Hope Gardens. It was found that pharmaceutical samples that had expired or could not be analysed were being stored for protracted periods, while toxicology samples, such as human body parts and food samples, were in storage since 2014.
The Auditor General says the Department’s refrigerator became non-functional in November 2014. This resulted in decomposition of the samples, including body parts, which were subsequently buried on the compound of the Department. However, the Auditor-General’s team was not provided with documented evidence that approval was obtained from the Ministry of Health, NEPA and the KSAC for this method of disposal.
The Auditor-General says the absence of an adequate disposal system exposes individuals to health risks and raises environmental safety concerns.
The Auditor-General is urging the Government Chemist Department to immediately put in place appropriate systems for the disposal of pharmaceuticals and toxicology samples. In addition, it has been recommended that the Department implement measures to reduce the risk of exposure of individuals and prevent litigation in the event of mishaps.
The audit also revealed that government ghemists are at risk of inhaling toxic fumes and hazardous chemicals, as there is no respirator provided to reduce the threat of irritation of the respiratory tract.
Although chemists use a fume cupboard, which helps in absorbing some of the odour, there is still the risk of exposure to fumes and chemicals.
The Auditor-General also found that some chemicals were stored on the floor and counter-tops, and were exposed to direct sunlight. In the event of an accident, earth tremor or other disasters, a spill could occur because the chemicals were not appropriately secured.
Due to the condition of the stores, the scope of the Auditor-General's probe was limited, as the auditors were unable to verify the accuracy of records, and the existence of stock.
Still more shortcomings at the Government Chemist Department were uncovered during the audit. The Department did not have in place approved Standard Operating Procedures to guide the analysis process.
It was noted that testing took as long as three years to be performed. In addition, the Sample Received Register was not updated for 167 samples for the period 2013 to 2016.
The records showed that the tests were requested by the Ministry of Health, and were not analysed due to the fact that the period for testing had expired, as well as the unavailability of re-agents, reference standards and equipment.
The Auditor-General says the absence of Standard Operating Procedures could reduce efficiencies in the analysis and certification of pharmaceuticals as well as investigations concerning food contamination.