Critical Drugs Shortage Persist As Prices Go Up

PRICES for basic drugs and medicines have gone up amidst indications of persistent foreign currency shortages,  resulting in the depletion of stocks at  major warehouses, HealthTimes has learnt.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

A survey by HealthTimes in Harare gathered that most pharmacies hiked the prices of critical medicine for instance, asthma medicine such as salbutamol inhalers went up from $4, 50 to $6 with other pharmacies going as far as tagging them a costly $14.

Cough syrup like Sophyllin which used to sell at $6, 50 is now between $7, 50 and $9. Most pharmacists who spoke to HealthTimes on condition of anonimity bemoaned the lack of forex.

“Most of our medicines have gone up due to foreign currency crisis. Its just that the foreign currency rates are being determined in the streets than the conventional banks,” said a pharmacist.

The pharmacist added that if banks determined the forex rates, the pricing would be reasonable.
It seems the under-prioritization of the health sector on the national budget cascades to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which is belittling it by allocating an unsatisfactory forex quota.

Commenting on the shortage of drugs, Zimbabwe Medical Association Secretary General Dr Shingi Bopoto said the forex crisis is an issue they have been lamenting for a long time as it affects the health sector.

“It’s a problem we have been aware of for the past three years and we have gone public several times with this information that RBZ is not allocating adequate foreign currency stocks to drug importers, to pharmaceutical importers.

“We run stockouts frequently sometimes of very critical drugs. This time around it appears to be worse because the stock outs are affecting a wide range of drugs, your pain killers, your anti biotics, diabetes drugs and so on,” he said.
In January this year, Ministry of Health and Child Care deputy director of pharmacy Mr Newman Madzikwa blamed the shortage of drugs on forex crisis.
“The main challenge we are facing is the shortage of foreign currency since we import the things like inhalers from Indian and European manufacturers for those who are asthmatic,” he was quoted as saying.
“Foreign currency has been a problem from the crisis of ARVs, diabetic tablets and insulin; and now asthma drugs. Unless measures are put in place to make sure that foreign currency is availed to the pharmaceutical industry, we will have consistent problems from one drug to the other.”
Mr Madzikwa said the ministry was working with the RBZ to ensure foreign currency was availed for imported drugs and/or essential drug components.
“We had a meeting with RBZ last week and their response was positive,” he said. “By now there must be some movement with invoices that were pending with the banks so that medicines are paid for.
“We are requesting US$65 million a week which is required by the pharmaceutical industry, but banks cannot disburse that money at once and we are getting around US$3 million weekly.”

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