Shortage of drugs hits hospitals

Paidamoyo Chipunza Harare Bureau
A SERIOUS shortage of drugs has hit the country’s major public hospitals, with the situation likely to persist for the next two months, as the National Pharmaceutical Company awaits the completion of the tendering process to replenish its stocks.

Natpharm received $800,000 from Treasury in October and has since been waiting for the completion of the tendering procedure, in the process, jeopardising the lives of patients.

Authorities at hospitals have resorted to buying drugs with money raised from charges on patients but falls short of covering their needs.

The hospitals are now giving patients prescriptions to buy medicine from private pharmacies, which most find expensive.

Natpharm managing director Flora Sifeku said in an interview yesterday that they received the $800,000 from the government as part of the $24 million debt owed since 2009.

“The tendering process is taking place and we are now waiting for deliveries from some of the suppliers,” Sifeku said.

She said they were hoping the drugs would start arriving in the country in the next two months.

Sifeku said the process would take a bit long because it was done through international tendering, which takes time, although it was cheaper.

Hospitals were, in the meantime, buying medicines with limited funds from their coffers, hence the drug shortages.

“Donated drugs are usually for primary health care and are, therefore, used mainly by clinics,” said Sifeku. “So, when you go on the ground, you will realise that it is the bigger hospitals which are suffering since they do not normally benefit from the donated drugs.”

Sifeku said the national drug stocks now sit at 10 percent up from the previous two percent, a development she attributed to a partnership between Natpharm and the National Aids Council (Nac).

“We have a partnership with Nac which is helping us to procure some critical medicines for people living with HIV, which has in turn improved the ratio of government supplies versus donor supplies,” she said.

Previously, government stocks constituted a paltry two percent against medicines procured by donors which constituted 98 percent of stocks at Natpharm.

Natpharm board chairperson George Washaya appealed to the government to settle the $24 million debt for the firm to buy enough drugs required for health institutions.

He said if the government paid the debt in batches of $5 million per year, it would satisfy the national drug requirements.

“Natpharm does not need recapitalisation,” said Washaya. “All we need is our money owed for work that has already been done. Our plea therefore is for the government to settle the debt, which has accrued since 2009 then we will be able to satisfy the national drug requirements.”

Sources at other major hospitals in the country said they were struggling to provide required medicines to their patients.

The situation was so dire such that some hospitals were even failing to buy simple pain killers, such as paracetamol.

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