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Lives at risk as cost of drugs surges

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health, Dr Ruth Labode, has urged the Ministry of Health and Child Care to conduct a survey on people who suffer from chronic diseases to ascertain if they are still on medication in light of never-ending price hikes of drugs in the country.

She said it was a wonder how people suffering from cancer, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses were able to stay on their medication since these conditions required uptake of pills all the time.

“This is a real challenge and we marvel at how are people surviving? How are they buying their drugs? We are asking the Ministry of Health and Child Care to conduct a survey on this because people are dying,” she said in an interview with CITE.

Dr Labode’s challenge comes on the backdrop of the high cost of living where pharmacies sell drugs and other medication in United States Dollars (US$) to people who also cannot afford to buy in RTGS$.

Last year in November, Dr Labode urged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to name and shame pharmaceutical companies that were double dipping, having received foreign currency from treasury to import pills but continued to charge patients in US$.

The legislator expressed concern that the situation could be still the same as people were the ones who suffered more when they failed to buy essential medicines.

She also questioned whether those pharmaceutical companies who had received forex allocation from treasury sold the drugs as per the interbank market rate.

“We have heard of committee that were set in the Ministry of Health to oversee who received what but the last time I heard of any allocation was last year, and reports that some companies resort to buying foreign currency from the black market. But if they do receive forex what we want to know is are these companies selling medicine at the interbank market rate,” Dr Labode noted.

Health minister, Dr Obadiah Moyo said regarding the utilisation of foreign currency by pharmaceutical companies, the ministry had a new system in place to look at its distribution and allocation.

“The finance ministry set up a national committee and from that structure, the ministry of health also has an allocation. The health ministry also created its own specialist committee to look at the distribution of the foreign currency, to manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers who then buy medicine, equipment or spare parts. This process has been molded into a much transparent set up so that is well overcome,” he said referring to those companies who double dipped.

Dr Moyo claimed he made a presentation before the parliament portfolio committee on health in April on the same issue.

“I want to point out that we have to concentrate on buying and utilising RTGS$ rather than being fully dependent on US$. When we access forex, fine but we must also try utilise RTGS$,” he said.

Meanwhile, the health minister highlighted the government had gone to tender for medicines and received a good response.

“We managed to receive $191 million worth of medicines and these medicines are now being supplied gradually by local suppliers who have utilised their own free funds -we are moving forward. So it is not an issue of foreign currency but also of utilising the local RTGS$ and giving it respect,” he highlighted.

According to Dr Moyo, 80 percent of the medicine in Zimbabwe comes from India.

“We want to achieve a service where we have adequate medicines. If we have a foreign investor we will also be able to bring in foreign medicines and at the same time are saying we want to strengthen our National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) by identifying foreign suppliers of medicine,” he said.

The plan for the ministry is to identify Indian companies who can work with the health ministry and create a bonded warehouse in NatPharm in Harare where a distribution structure would be created going through to hospitals.

“We must create NatPharm pharmacies within our hospital institutions and once we have medicines in a bonded warehouse, it becomes much easier for us to source the medicine because they will be local. At the moment we are having to go to tender and it takes three months before we even receive the medicines because the companies in India will not start manufacturing until the US$ reflect in their bank account.

“But if we have an Indian company warehousing here in Zimbabwe in a bonded warehouse means is we can work up and be able to go purchase from their stock locally and be able to access medicines immediately rather than waiting for three to four months,” explained Dr Moyo.

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