Soaring drug prices slash life expectancy: Doctors

HARARE - The high-profile price hikes of medication have raised the ire of rights doctors.

Evans Spanton, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said a lot of Zimbabweans are on chronic medication and this development will significantly reduce quality of life and life expectancy in general, as well as infringe on the basic right to health which all Zimbabweans are entitled to in the Constitution’s expansive Bill of Rights.

“Price increases in the cost of medication which has seen a 70 percent rise in the markets is highly regrettable given that Zimbabwe remains burdened by the HIV/Aids pandemic and NCDs (Non communicable Diseases) which are on the rise,” Spanton said.

Whilst the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) insists that they are providing forex to pharmaceutical companies, evidence gathered from the Pharmaceutical Association of Zimbabwe and a general market survey has proven otherwise, Spanton said.

RBZ governor John Mangudya claimed yesterday that  the central bank was allocating $4 million to pharmacies weekly to import drugs.

He described the 70 percent hike as “abuse of consumers and bad business practice.”

Spanton said: “This brings into question government’s commitment to ensuring the right to health for its citizens. Priority for the health sector is definitely lacking. This is further reflected by the consistent year-on-year paltry allocation to the Health ministry which falls short of the 15 percent stipulated by the Abuja agreement.”

Fifteen years after the government pledged in the Abuja Declaration to allocate at least 15 percent of its annual budget to healthcare by 2015, it is dismally failing to meet this goal.

“The lack of political will continues to dog the healthcare sector in Zimbabwe,” Spanton said.

“It is our hope that the new Finance minister ... will prioritise health in his upcoming budget and avoid unnecessary deaths ...”

Spaton said despite the fact that the 8th Parliament has four or more qualified medical doctors, there has not been much lobbying for increase in allocation to the health budget, resulting in the country continuing to be ravaged by primitive diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

“Whilst parliamentarians are busy arguing about lining their fat pockets, poverty stricken civilians are being killed by typhoid in Mbare and other high density suburbs,” Spanton said.

“This is the kind of attitude which we hope the next elections will address. As ZADHR we urge all medical practitioners and allied health services providers, as well as patients to go and register to vote and elect representatives who will front our agenda for equitable health and right to access for all Zimbabweans.”

He said it was common sense that Zimbabwe needs to manufacture its drugs locally.

“This can be done by capitalising manufacturing plants such as CAPS Holdings, which at its peak exported drugs to the whole of southern Africa and beyond, earning us the much needed foreign currency, as well as providing medication to Zimbabweans at a reasonable cost,” he said.

Government assumed control of the stuttering drug-maker in August last year after buying out ex-major shareholder Frederick Mtandah.

This was after CAPS’ faced a critical funding shortfall, with its property escaping a public auction aimed at amortising a $4 million loan owed to two major banks — CBZ Bank and FBC Bank. 

Government has since snapped up CAPS’ debts through the Zimbabwe Asset Management Corporation, a central bank unit setup to assume distressed companies’ debts to banks.

CAPS has since been delisted from the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE).

CAPS is only operating one out of its four plants in the capital, Harare, as a result of lack of funding from new shareholders, government, leaving the country’s health institutions and donors with no option but to procure medicines, including intravenous drip water, outside the country.

“In the short term, a waiver on duty for importation of critical medicines such as ARVs, anti-hypertensive, chemotherapy, theatre injectable to mention just a few would be advisable to avert this disaster,” Spanton said.

“The high cost of our import tax on raw materials, makes it cheaper for instance to import paracetamol as a finished product from India, as compared to getting raw materials for local production, which would also create jobs. We hope responsible authorities take time to look into these issues and avoid unnecessary loss of lives.”


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