13 April 2018

South Africa: [Exclusive] North West Could Run Out of Medicine Within a Week

Photo: Sydelle WIllow Smith/MSF
Simphiwe holds his medication, he takes up to 26 pills a day to treat XDR-TB.

Striking workers say gates to the province's central depot will stay locked until their demands are met.

North West hospitals and clinics could run out of medicine in just days as a go-slow at its central medicine depot enters its second month, provincial communications Tebogo Lekgethwane has confirmed.

"With the strike, it means nothing is coming into the hospital or clinics," warns Glenda Muzenda, who manages the Stop Stockouts Project, a civil society coalition that monitors medicine availability in the public sector.

HIV-positive patients who would normally be sent at least a month of antiretrovirals (ARVs) are now being issued with as few as three days' worth of the drugs, Muzenda says. ARV rationing in the province means that patients are having to return to clinics to pick up smaller batches of the drugs more often, increasing the risk they will miss doses, she warns.

Muzenda fears that treatment interruptions will put patients at risk of developing resistance to the medication.

"Patients are still going to clinics and are coming back empty-handed."

Workers affiliated with the trade union Nehawu at the province's medical depot are refusing to work until the provincial government meets a set of demands, including salary increases, committing to insourcing general workers and the axing of head of health Andrew Thabo Lekalakala. The call for Lekalakala's dismissal comes after he signed off on a multimillion contract with Gupta-linked company Mediosa for a mobile clinic. Lekalakala has since been placed on special leave.

North West head of health Andrew Thabo Lekalakala awarded the Gupta-linked company Mediosa a contract of more than R30-million rand for a mobile clinic.

Nehawu's provincial secretary Patrick Makhafane says he expects the protest action to continue on the heels of a new round of failed negotiations last week. Premier Supra Mahumapelo has now convened a crisis MEC task team that includes the MECs of health, social development and education to negotiate with the union. However, the latest meeting between the unit and Nehawu on Thursday was cancelled.

Aids lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign, as well as public interest law organisation Section27, have also staff to the province to investigate.

Meanwhile, the province has sought the help of the national health department, which has asked pharmaceutical suppliers to begin bypassing the depot and begin delivering directly to clinics, according to health minister spokesperson Popo Maja. He adds that Gauteng and Northern Cape health districts are being roped-in to supply medication to the North West.

Aspen Pharmaceutical began ferrying shipments to clinics last week after workers refused to accept ARV shipments delivered to the provincial depot, Group Senior Executive Stavros Nicolaou says. Aspen is one of the four companies that provide ARVs to the public sector nationally.

"Suppliers, such as ourselves, have set up a direct delivery system....so that patients are able to start receiving their medication again, especially the chronic medicine," he explains.

Nicolaou says he hopes that clinics and hospitals will be re-stocked by the end of next week.

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