The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) yesterday pumped in US$6, 7 million to mitigate the shortage of much needed foreign currency for the supply and manufacturing of medicines in the health sector, a Cabinet Minister said on Friday.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
A cross section of the health sector called on the apex bank to consider allocating a chunk of the US$500 million line of credit announced in the Monetary Policy Statement last week to the health sector which for months has been enduring the foreign currency crisis which caused the shortage of some critical drugs.
Some of the concerned organisations include Association of Health Funders Zimbabwe (AHFoZ), Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights(ZADHR), Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) among others.
This acute shortage of medicines where a bulk is imported also led to a series of meetings between the Ministries of Health and Childcare and Finance and Economic Development, RBZ alongside other concerned health stakeholders.
Speaking at a Cholera Donation Handover ceremony at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital on Friday, Health Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said the central bank responded to the growing calls on allocating health sector with a US$6, 7 million forex alleviation package.
“But Im happy to also report that RBZ has a good ear and have responded by awarding the health sector US$6, 7 million and this has gone to the manufacturers, to the wholesalers and some retailers so that we can be able to build on that,” he said.
The minister also noted with concern the forex challenges facing the health sector.
“The issue of medicines in general. The country has faced following challenges with regards to supply of medicines in both the public and private sectors, inadequate funding in the public sector leading to the gaps in supply of essential medicines in public health institutions. The retail sector played a major role in covering the gap especially for those on medical insurance.
“But access by those not covered has been a challenge due to lack of foreign currency and has led to supplies also dwindling in both the public and private sector as wholesalers and manufacturers could not access foreign currency to be able to manufacture adequate quantities to meet the demand,” said Dr Moyo.
But the Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) in a statement said they require US$29 million.
“In the meantime, engagements with all stakeholders involved in the supply of medicines value chain are on- going and the Minister of Health and Child Care has advised the industry that the RBZ has allocated USD6, 7 million from a total requirement of US$29 million as of yesterday,” said PSZ.
PSZ added that they wait to hear from importers if the allocated US$6, 7 million would suffice to calm the situation since it was not the amount required.
“The importers will advise us on how much the availed foreign currency can unlock of the closed supplier accounts and also how much medicines will be availed in due course considering that the amount released so far is not adequate lot immediate return to normalcy,” the umbrella body for all things pharmaceutical in Zimbabwe said.
PSZ was particularly impressed with how NatPharm which supplies medicines for the public health sector was not left out.
“The Society is particularly pleased to note that there was also allocation to NatPharm to fund for public sector supplies and local manufacturers so that they can also increase capacity to service local market and also export,” PSZ said.
Most pharmacies have been charging medicines using the US$ currency ignoring the Bond notes, Ecocash or Swipe although there are a few still taking the local pseudo-currency.
This according to investigations by PSZ was on the back of wholesalers who demanded procurement of medicines by retailers in US$.
“It is confirmed that some wholesalers and some local manufacturers are now asking for USD for supply of medicines to retail pharmacies,” PSZ president Portifa Mwendera said in a recent interview with HealthTimes.
PSZ explained that lack of forex funding for raw materials for local production caused price distortions and current shortage of medicines.
“The cause of the current shortage of medicines and price distortions in private pharmacies has been mainly due to the unavailability of foreign currency required to fund importation of raw materials for local production and finished products As a nation we depend on medicines that have a 95percent import component despite the local production of some products,” PSZ said.
PSZ noted how the situation blew out of proportion last week.
“The crisis deepened over the last week due to uncertainty on how the import bill on medicines was going to be handled by the monetary authorities in the face of declining allocations of foreign currency to the industry over the past nine months This was also worsened by the withdrawal of credit facilities by a number of suppliers to our market over non-payment of past obligations,” said PSZ.