The Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe has called on Government to capacitate Natpharm and CAPS and to avail more foreign currency to deal with drug shortages. They also called for a consistent supply of foreign currency to enable them to import critical drugs and ensure patients have access to affordable medicines.
This emerged on Wednesday last week when the PSZ members appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care chaired by Dr Ruth Labode.
Explaining why there were shortages of drugs and why some pharmacies were charging for medicines in foreign currency, PSZ president Mr Portiphar Muondera said their foreign suppliers now wanted cash upfront before delivering the medicines as they were owed substantial amounts of money by the organisation.
He said medicine manufacturers owed foreign suppliers about US$38 million but due to their indebtedness the suppliers were no longer willing to release drugs on credit.
"The situation that we are in is critical because we are already noticing shortages of some mainline medicines -- painkillers, shortages of anti-diabetic medicines and hypertensive medicines. We have limited supplies that will last us just about three weeks to a month or so in the warehouses," he said.
Mr Muondera said the situation would remain critical as long as they did not settle their debt.
"As long as we have not cleared our debts or paid for new supplies we will not achieve much. As an industry we are trying to zero in on issues of sustainability. When we get medicines, it should always be available. If we have disruptions in the supply chain then we have a crisis.
"We have gone for more than six weeks without any allocations of foreign currency. In September we managed to import medicines worth about $6,8 million into Zimbabwe. In October it fell to $1,5 million and November it was a very sad story," he said
He said some pharamacies had resorted to selling medicines in foreign currency to continue accessing supplies from their foreign suppliers.
"Some suppliers have asked for payment before deliveries and so retailers have been charging for medicine in foreign currency. The charging of products in US dollars has never been a desirable position because it presents some challenges in terms of implementation. Medicines, according to Government, should not be charged in foreign currency," he said.
He said the situation could improve if Government capacitates CAPS and Natphram which would serve public health institutions, relieving pressure on the private sector.
"We need to have consistent and predictable allocations of foreign currency to the industry. If we can predict how much is going to come in and consistently, we can manage the situation. We restrict importations to the very basic essentials and just limit importations of other medications. The challenge is we are not getting anything," he said.
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association chairperson Mr Emmanuel Mujuru said they required $3,25 million for medicines but for the past three months they had only received $1,5 million.
"Consistent and predictable monthly allocation of $3,25 million is required for the industry to be able to supply at least a third of the country's essential medicine requirements. The US$6 million owed to foreign suppliers needs to be paid in order to open new lines of credit.
"This will result in increased capacity utilisation which will reduce the cost of production. As a result, local companies will be able to sell drugs at low or competitive prices," he said.
"Natpharm should be adequately resourced and supply the public sector, which caters for the majority of people. The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and indeed the importing wholesalers rely on Natpharm orders to a greater extent for them. We also recommend the resuscitation of (te local pharmaceutical industry). For instance, CAPS has been lying idle. We have had cholera outbreaks which required us to import drips that can be manufactured locally.
"Governments should allocate foreign currency and remove VAT on imported machinery. If we have a full allocation of foreign currency, our production costs will be reduced," he said.
The Members of Parliament raised concern that pharmaceuticals were charging drugs in foreign currency even those manufactured locally.
They also suggested that pharmacies also prioritise the importation of critical medicines.