SEVERAL pharmaceutical retailers in Harare have resorted to charging all medicines especially critical drugs using a two tier pricing system as a way to stay afloat in the business dogged by foreign currency shortages, HealthTimes can exclusively reveal.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Investigations by this publication reveal that in this two tier system, the United States dollar has its own price while the Bond notes, Ecocash, RTGS have another which is a multiplication of five or three to the US currency.
Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) president Portifa Mwendera in an interview said they do not condone such behavior. PSZ is the umbrella representative body for pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
“In as much as we acknowledge that there is shortage in terms of medicine on the back of foreign currency, it’s not the position of the society that people should pay in US$ because engagements are going on with both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance to make sure that we get the forex,” he said.
Mwendera added that the retailers are cushioning themselves from pressures exerted on them by wholesalers. “But what has happened is that we have a lot of pharmacies saying they are being asked to pay in forex by some wholesalers so we are still trying to investigate the issue,” Mwendera said.
According to pharmacy operators in Machipisa, Highfield who requested anonymity, this move is the only way to stay afloat in the turbulent forex shortages.
This comes at a time when Government introduced a raft of unpopular measures among them the separation of nostro foreign currency accounts and Real Time Gross Settlement FCAs.
More so, these pharmacists still reeling under the pressure of foreign currency shortages were also affected by the 2 percent tax surcharge announced by Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube.
In the investigations, HealthTimes found that prices of critical drugs vaulted in reaction to the forex shortages, the 2 percent surcharge among other austerity measures.
“A bottle of Sophyllyn Cough Syrup costs US$8, 50 but if buying using the Bonds, Ecocash or Swipe you multiply that by three,” said one pharmacist.
At other pharmacies, diabetics have to suffer the brunt of paying five times more as the situation gets worse every minute. Other health sources said that other retailers did not have painkillers such as Paracetamol.
At another pharmacy, the pharmacist linked this development as a measure to cushion themselves against the prevailing forex crunch.
“Unlike other pharmacies that you have seen charging thrice that of the US$, we have just doubled the price. This is a reaction to the rates on the market as we buy the forex in the streets to import the medicine,” he said.
This pharmacist wish is for Government to own up its pledge of allocating the required forex to import medicine.
“I am seeing a scenario where Government will allocate a sizeable amount of forex to address the fuel shortages which they however claim there is nothing like that. Its sad that they will be sidelining and crippling the health sector which also relies on the same foreign currency. We hope they also pay attention to the health sector inasmuch as they would to fuel shortages,” said the pharmacist.
In terms of RBZ policies, companies willing to import request payment of specific amounts to their trading partners through their bank’s nostro accounts. These are accounts which banks hold in foreign currency with other banks outside the country.
The bank would then request approval from the RBZ, which then does its allocations depending on the available foreign currency reserves.
However, the central bank has been failing to make meaningful allocations.
Mwendera said the RBZ has allocated only US$7 million for the second quarter.
The Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights also issued a statement calling on Government to allocate forex for procurement of drugs.
“ZADHR calls upon the government to prioritize foreign currency allocations towards drug procurement, health workforce retention and provision of urgent obstetric and neonatal care. Fuel quotas must be reserved to enable health facilities and workers to timeously attend to life threatening emergencies. A health time bomb is looming should these issues be neglected,” said the organisation.
Some pharmacies have closed after running out of stocks owing to a crippling foreign currency shortages. It was reported that major pharmaceutical wholesalers in the country suspended operations indefinitely on Monday after running out of stocks owing to a crippling foreign currency shortage, triggering a massive scarcity of life-saving drugs that is putting millions of lives at risk.
Pharmacies have been under the chokehold of forex shortages for over a year now with others not having medicine such as Ventolin Salbutamol inhaler for more than a year.