Zimbabwe's anti-graft police unit, which was established in 2018, has recovered around 40 boxes of COVID-19 test kits valued at thousands of dollars that were stolen from a hospital in the country's second largest city, Bulawayo.
The tests, a donation from UNICEF, had been stashed in a building opposite the central bank in the capital Harare, destined for the black market.
It was one of the latest cases of pandemic-related graft to take place one year after the coronavirus surfaced in the country.
Zimbabwe recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 20 last year and three-and-half months later the health minister was fired for corruption.
He was charged with irregularly awarding a foreign-based company a multi-million-dollar contract to supply personal protective equipment, test kits and drugs.
In addition, he was accused of trying to coerce the treasury to pay for 15,000 coronavirus test kits stored in Harare's international airport. After an inspection, only 3,700 kits were found.
The southern African country started rolling out COVID-19 jabs last month and questions are being raised about the vaccine procurement process.
The government has set aside $100 million for vaccines to inoculate 10 million of its 14.5 million population.
"People I have spoken to worry that there will be corruption, there will be looting of public funds," said Hopewell Chin'ono, a whistleblowing journalist whose reporting brought down the health minister.
In February, shortly after his release from prison – his third arrest in six months – the investigative journalist released a short reggae track "Demloot" (they loot) which immediately went viral.
Zimbabwe's chief epidemiologist Portia Manangazira was recently arrested for allegedly recruiting 28 relatives, including her father, as community health workers in a nearly $800,000 virus awareness program funded by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The training exercise, earmarked for 800 community health workers, saw her family draw a monthly $600 stipend for three months, prosecutors said.
The anti-corruption watchdog is probing around a dozen cases linked to the coronavirus program.
"At least 10 cases are ... (linked to) corruption in the procurement of PPEs and other materials," said Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission spokesperson John Makamure.
The charges include criminal abuse of office by public officials, fraud and theft, said Makamure, refusing to divulge details.
Transparency International Zimbabwe told Agence France-Presse (AFP) it had received 1,400 complaints related to corruption in health care, policing and pandemic humanitarian relief in 2020.
Health care workers complain about inadequate protective gear, blaming corruption for the scarcity.
"The situation is dire," said nurses union leader Simbarashe Tafirenyika.
According to official tallies, the virus has killed at least 1,500 out of the nearly 37,000 diagnosed cases – an underestimation according to experts.
The peak of the second wave earlier this year exposed the dire state of public hospitals that were already collapsing as a result of two decades of economic crisis and uncontrolled inflation under former leader Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule.
State hospitals were saturated in January and private hospitals were under fire for capitalizing on this and charging desperate families exorbitant fees – as much as $2,500 per week for use of a ventilator.
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