25 February 2016

Namibia: Nam Has HIV Rapid Test Kits Shortage

Public health facilities countrywide are running low on HIV rapid test kits.

This has resulted in health facilities reserving the remaining kits for pregnant women and for emergency cases while other cases are referred to the Namibia Institute of Pathology laboratories.

The Namibian established early this month that clinics around Windhoek were turning people away because of the shortage of the kits.

A community counsellor at the Robert Mugabe Clinic told The Namibian early this month that they had been forced to send away people seeking their services and at times put up a notice on the testing room door to inform people about the shortage of testing kits.

The health ministry permanent secretary, Andreas Mwoombola, confirmed the shortage yesterday in a written response to The Namibian.

Mwoombola said the ministry changed the testing methods in November 2015 in accordance with World Health Organisation recommendations.

"The anticipated switch has deferred some of the procurement processes for HIV rapid test kits. The situation is currently being resolved and an order has been placed with one of the suppliers," he said.

Mwoombola noted that the ministry expects the equipment to be delivered and distributed to public health facilities not later than the second week of next month.

The ministry has been supplying test kits since 2004 to public health facilities as an alternative testing method so that patients received their results within 15 to 20 minutes after testing.

Medical shortages have become normal for the health ministry. In 2014 The Namibian reported that more than 73 000 people on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in some parts of the country ran the risk of becoming drug resistant after they were forced off their prescribed medication because of shortages.

At the time, the ministry confirmed the shortage of medicines, singling out ARVs but denied responsibility, which they blamed on hiccups experienced by suppliers.

The ministry also admitted that they were forced to administer children's medicine to adults as a substitute.

However, an interruption in the ARV treatment programme could result in drug resistance for patients at a later stage, but the health ministry spokesperson Ester Paulus at the time denied that there might be consequences as she said the delay was only temporary.

The ministry also made headlines recently after it allegedly 'bought' ARVs for N$64 million from Ugandan company Cipla Quality Chemicals, without going to tender.

Mwoombola denied this saying the ARV order was an emergency and the ministry awarded the tender procedurally.

He quoted the Tender Board Act of 1996, which stipulates that if a board, for any good cause, deems it impractical or inappropriate to invite tenders, they do not need to.

A senior official in the ministry however said the drugs did not come from Uganda and fails to understand why health minister Bernard Haufiku and Mwoombola were saying the drugs came from that country.


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