Drug firms in dire straits

HARARE - The pharmaceutical industry has warned of a catastrophic health crisis if the government does not release emergency funds for the importation of life-prolonging drugs.

This comes as many local pharmacies have started selling medication in hard cash and United States dollars only.

It also comes as most pharmacies around the country have suspended accepting medical aid cards for the purchase of drugs — citing Zimbabwe’s economic blues as a reason.

And in further bad news for patients, private hospitals also announced at the weekend that they had hiked their service fees, in a move which affects thousands of patients on medical aid who are now expected to incur massive shortfalls as a result.

Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) president, Portifa Mwendera, warned yesterday that if the government does not release emergency funds to import critical drugs that were now in short supply, thousands of patients on life-prolonging drugs would be at risk.

Mwendera said while it was not a joint agreement by the society or retail pharmacies to demand cash or US dollars for drug purchases, they were doing so as a way of continuing to provide the life-prolonging drugs.

“We are in a critical time in terms of drug stocks. The whole of last week, patients were not able to access their blood pressure medication as it is no longer in stock. The first line of HIV anti-retroviral treatment (ART) is also not in stock.

“We used to get the medicines from the National Pharmaceutical Company of Zimbabwe (NatPharm), but they told us they have nothing.

“What is prevailing right now is that for some ailments there are stocks for less than two weeks, while for others it can only last for two months,” Mwendera told the Daily News.

“For treatment of ailments such as cancer, because of the uniqueness of its case, patients have to pay in foreign currency in order for the pharmacy to import on their behalf.

“In the short term, we are calling on central government to release funds of between $45 and $100 million for us to import these drugs.

“In the long term, we want them to invest in local production to ease the pressure of looking for foreign currency to import products,” he said further.

The country is experiencing serious drug shortages as a result of the acute shortages of foreign currency.

Zimbabwe needs about $400 million per year to meet its drug requirements for both public hospitals and the rest of the health services sector.

At the peak of its economy, Zimbabwe imported drugs minimally due to the then healthy state of its pharmaceutical industry, which was dominated by CAPS Holdings.

The struggling drug manufacturer accounted for 75 percent of the local healthcare products and was involved in the manufacture, wholesale, distribution and retail of pharmaceutical, consumer and veterinary products.

Meanwhile, Avenues Clinic in Harare is among the health facilities that have hiked their service fees.

“The Avenues Clinic wishes to advise that it has taken the difficult decision to temporarily adjust for drugs and sundries upwards, effectively immediately.

“We have noted that most of our critical suppliers have already started charging in US dollars or are not selling at all, which has presented a huge stock replenishment risk on our operations.

“We have made a temporary upward adjustment to stock prices across the board and this is effective immediately while we monitor the situation throughout the weekend.

“Following this development, as funders you will see members experiencing shortfalls (in addition to those that were there already for those whose prices were lower than our charges) unless as a funder you have made a specific arrangement with us that this shortfall will be covered.

“The adjustment will add 15 percentage points to our mark up as a cushion against further increases by the time we replace stocks,” Avenues Clinic chief executive, Searchmore Chaparadza, said in a memo to medical aid societies.

Child and Health Care deputy minister John Mangwiro said government was working on a raft of measures to address the deepening problems in the health services sector.

Acting permanent secretary in the ministry, Robert Mudyiradima, however, said it was wrong for service providers and pharmacies to hike their prices.

“Generally, everything is going up but it is no justification to hike prices for drugs and medical supplies. The ministry will definitely look into the matter,” Mudyiradima said.

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