21 December 2013

Zimbabwe: Take National Healthcare System Seriously


ZImbabwe's public health delivery system is in a deplorable state and this week, the Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa, publicly admitted the country's drugs bank - Natpharm (Pvt) Ltd - was almost empty.

This can possibly be attributed to the effects of the illegal sanctions imposed on the country by the West for the past decade on one hand, and failure by the authorities to prioritise this critical sector when it comes to resource allocation on the other.

However, one will not be totally off the mark to suggest that Zimbabweans have lost confidence in the public health system to the extent that it's only poor people in towns and villages who still desperately queue at district, provincial and central hospitals to access basic healthcare.

Besides the shortage of essential drugs, doctors at some hospitals attend to private patients at a time when they are supposed to be manning Government healthcare institutions, while fatigued and underpaid nurses helplessly watch people groaning in excruciating pain.

We therefore challenge hospital authorities to tighten their security systems and ensure that doctors do not steal the few drugs available.

What pains most is, even if doctors and nurses attend to patients, hospital pharmacies will be empty and the people are referred to private pharmacies that milk them of the little money they have.

It is against this gloomy picture that we implore Government to urgently recapitalise the national drugs bank, which at the moment is stocked with 80 percent of drugs donated by well-wishers.

We cannot rely on donations for such important institutions and functions.

We urge Government to boost local drugs and reduce over-reliance on donors and cheap imports, some of which are expired or toxic to patients.

There is nothing wrong in receiving donations from friendly countries and individuals, but we are concerned that the country will not be in control of the amount and quality of drugs required by its people at any given time.

Over-reliance on donors leaves the country vulnerable to manipulation by those who do not want to see Zimbabwe prosper, and also puts us at risk of an influx of drugs and medical consumables that do not apply to our climatic conditions and most immediate needs.

Some of the dangers of leaving Natpharm undercapilised are that some fly-by-night dealers will endanger the lives of innocent Zimbabweans by bringing in cheap substitutes.

There are some people in Zimbabwe who buy anti-retroviral drugs and cotrimoxazole on the streets because they are not readily available in public health institutions, thereby endangering their own lives.

Many drugs and vaccines need to be kept under certain temperatures and buying them from the streets, where they are exposed to high temperatures, definitely will render them not only useless but also dangerous.

Buying drugs from the streets without prescriptions means the people are going to use medicines whose authenticity cannot be vouched for.

Many medicines are prescribed according to such considerations as age and body mass and "street pharmacies" do not take these into account.

There are hospitals that have established private pharmacies in their premises, while in some areas chemists have been built just a stone's throw from general hospitals after some enterprising people realised that medicinal drugs are not readily available elsewhere.

This has led to massive exploitation of poor and vulnerable Zimbabweans and we call upon the relevant authorities to swiftly move in and protect these people.

We are glad that Minister Parirenyatwa this week acknowledged, at the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe annual stakeholders forum, that under-capitalisation of Natpharm is cause for concern to Government.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Thursday allocated US$337 005 000 to the Health Ministry, and medical supplies and services will receive US$200 000.

This amount means that donors, mainly from the China, India and some EU donors are likely to be the major suppliers of medical drugs in the country next year.

A huge chunk of the health Budget will go towards salaries and other consumables.

Surely, this is not the way to run a national healthcare system.

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