Namibia: Pharmacies Challenge Govt Restriction On Codeine

13 September 2019

THE Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia is suing the government for restricting public access to vital medicine such as painkillers and cough syrup because they contain codeine.

The case, filed in the Windhoek High Court in June, was on Wednesday postponed to 13 November.

This comes after the health ministry in January this year introduced tight restrictions on medicines containing codeine, saying the public would need a doctor's prescription to access them.

This move was announced in the Government Gazette of 31 October 2018, which stated that all medicines containing codeine, which were under schedule one, must now fall under schedule two, meaning they should be bought with a doctor's prescription.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia (PSN) and pharmacist Ulrich Ritter are suing the ministry of health and the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council in what could be a tug-of-war between the government's obligation to curb abuse of the said medicine, and the need for the public to have cheaper access to health. They are asking the court that the classification of the medicine codeine (methyl morphine) in limited dosages from schedule one to schedule two, be set aside.

The difference is that schedule one does not require a doctor's order, while schedule two requires one.

In his founding affidavit, chairperson of the PSN, Benjamin Khumalo states that more medicines were also classified under the same schedule, and this includes capsaicin (anti-inflammatory substance used in sports lotions), heparin (that makes the blood thin), ipratropium (loosening mucus for asthma patients), sulfacetamide (antiseptic and anti-bacterial medication), vaccines, vitamins A, B, C, D and K, as well as water for injections, unless listed in another schedule.

"The patent aim of the amended notice is to remove from pharmacists the right to give injections." stated Khumalo.

He added that the administering of injections has been part of the day-to-day professional service rendered by pharmacists.

Khumalo claimed that the decisions were made following foreign consideration, concerns or policies, and without looking at the Namibian context.

Requiring patients to have a prescription before getting some of these products is placing a barrier on patients, especially those who are from poor backgrounds, Khumalo reiterated.

The pharmacist said he had informed the regulatory council that a patient can spend N$13 to get a pack of the basic codeine- containing headache tablet, while if they have to see a doctor, they might spend N$450 or more for something they can get over the counter. The health ministry and the regulatory council have filed an intention to oppose the application.

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