9 October 2016

Tanzania: Liberalise Medicine Import Trade - Call

Arusha — The government has been urged to liberalise the importation of medicines in order to address the current shortage of essential drugs.

The shadow minister for Health, Dr Godwin Mollel, says the Medical Stores Department (MSD) should be stripped of monopoly to import the medical supplies.

Speaking to reporters here, the Opposition politician who is the MP for Siha on Chadema ticket, said the government should also settle huge debts it owes to the autonomous agency under the Health ministry.

"This single channel of drug importation through MSD is problematic. We should liberalise importation of essential drugs by inviting other players from the private sector," he pointed out.

Dr Mollel added that even the catalogue for essential drugs should be reviewed in order to address the current demands of medical supplies, be they drugs and hospital equipment. MSD is an autonomous department of the Ministry of Health that is responsible for the procurement, storage, and distribution of essential drugs and other medical supplies in Tanzania.

Created by an act of Parliament in 1993, the mission of MSD is "to make available at all times essential drugs and medical supplies of acceptable quality at cost-effective prices to the population through government and approved non-government and private health facilities."

But the MP in the wake of shortage of drugs and other medical supplies importation should not be under the control of the department as long as the required medicines were up to the desired standards and quality.

He wondered why Tanzania was importing most of its essential drugs from India and other distant countries in Asia whereas they were readily available within the East African region. "Why purchase drugs from India instead of neighbouring Kenya?" he asked saying although medical supplies from the Asian country were cheaper the cost remains high due to freight charges.

He remarked that shunning drug imports from Kenya, which has a much developed pharmaceutical sector in the region, does not translate well with the economic integration under the East African Community (EAC).

"As long as their (Kenya) drugs are cost-effective, up to the required standard and conform with out regulatory framework, I don't see the reason why we should not get our medical supplies from next door," he explained, noting that the government should fight bureaucracy in procurement of medicines.

Dr Mollel, himself a medical doctor, attributed the current shortage of drugs and other essential supplies to the low budget to the ministry of Health, Social Development, Gender, Elderly and Children for 2016/2017 financial year. He said although the budget for the current fiscal year appear to be more than what was approved by Parliament for 2015/16, the 2016/17 budget was actually less given the depreciation of the shilling against the US dollar.

The shadow minister further wondered why Health minister Ummy Ally Mwalimu did not listen to their pleas during the presentation of the budget speech by the Opposition during which they proposed several measures to improve health delivery services.

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