Swaziland Nurses Picket, Drugs Run Out, Lives Put At Risk As Government Fails to Pay Suppliers

King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Eswatini (file photo).

Nurses in Swaziland are picketing their hospital to protest drug and staff shortages caused by the government-induced financial crisis.

They say lives have been put a risk. They have been picketing during their lunch breaks for the past three days at Mbabane Government Hospital in the capital of Swaziland (the kingdom recently renamed Eswatini, by the its absolute monarch King Mswati III).

The Times of Swaziland reported on Wednesday (15 August 2018), 'If you are in a critical condition and want help, you will not get it at the Mbabane Government Hospital. This is due to the shortage of vital drugs and working equipment, which could result in the death of some of the patients.'

It reported the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) unit at the hospital had also run out of Unigold Testing Kits, which are used to confirm an HIV positive status. Also, more than 10 drugs were not available at the hospital.

The Times reported, 'All this is happening at a time when government is facing serious financial challenges. It was established from sources that the crisis within the health sector was due to the financial catastrophe faced by government.

The Times reported '"It's a serious matter. Patients will die if these issues are not addressed," some of the nurses said.'

The Swazi Observer reported on Wednesday, 'The shortage of common drugs are hitting even other government health institutions across the country, including Mankayane, Dvokolwako, Pigg's Peak Hospitals and other clinics, putting the health of patients at risk.'

Some drugs had been out of stock since the beginning of the year, the Observer reported.

The action comes after Swazipharm, Swaziland's largest distributor of pharmaceutical products and medical equipment to the healthcare system of Swaziland, reported it could not buy new stocks because the Ministry of Health had not paid its bill.

Swazipharm Sales and Marketing Manager Cindy Stankoczi confirmed in July 2018 it had cut the supply of drugs to local health institutions.

Long before Swazipharm's announcement medicines, including vaccines against polio and tuberculosis had run out in many government hospitals and clinics because drug suppliers had not been paid. In June 2017, Senator Prince Kekela told parliament that at least five people had died as a result of the drug shortages. About US$18 million was reportedly owed to drug companies in May 2017.

In June 2018 it was revealed there were only 12 working public ambulances in the whole of Swaziland to serve 1.1 million people because the government failed to maintain them. It had bought no new ambulances since 2013.

In his budget speech in March 2018 Finance Minister Martin Dlamini said Government owed E3.1bn (US$230 million) in total to its suppliers for goods and services.

On 1 August 2018, the Swazi Government announced it had frozen all job hiring, promotions and creation of new posts because it was broke.

In June 2018 it was reported that children collapsed with hunger in their school because the government had not paid for food for them. The kingdom had previously been warned to expect children to starve because the government had not paid its suppliers for the food that is distributed free of charge at schools. The shortage was reported to be widespread across the kingdom.

Meanwhile, King Mswati III who rules Swaziland as one of the world's last absolute monarchs wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds weighing 6 kg, at his 50th birthday party in April. Days earlier he took delivery of his second private jet, a A340 Airbus, that after VIP upgrades reportedly cost US$30 million. He received E15 million (US$1.2 million) in cheques, a gold dining room suite and a gold lounge suite among his birthday gifts.

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