‘Public health institutions hit by drug shortages’

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PUBLIC health institutions are facing drug shortages, forcing Zimbabweans to purchase medication from more expensive private institutions, the Parliamentary portfolio committee on Health and Child Care has said.

This comes as the majority of private pharmacies across the country are now selling their products exclusively in foreign currency. It also comes as general medical practitioners and specialist doctors are also demanding United States dollars for their consultation fees.

During his presentation of the 2021 National Budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated $54,7 billion to the Health ministry, which is 12,74 percent of the total budget.

In a report presented in the National Assembly on Wednesday, the committee said funding for the Health ministry was too low hence some institutions were facing critical drug shortages.

“Public health institutions have run out of drugs and medicines supplies, forcing patients to resort to private pharmacies for their prescribed medicines. “It is disturbing to note that pharmacies are charging exorbitant prices thereby denying the majority of Zimbabweans access to health care. This situation has seen chronic-disease patients like those on hypertension medication suffering,” the report reads.

The committee noted that Treasury must prioritise recapitalisation of the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm) to ensure the availability of drugs at all health centres around the country.

“Natpharm must sell drugs to public hospital patients at affordable prices in order to harness resources that are being used by the public to buy drugs from private pharmacies.

“Prioritise funding of biomedical engineering, biomedical science, pharmaceuticals and bio-pharmaceutical production in order to promote local production of drugs.

“The committee is concerned about the decision taken by the Treasury to centralise the Health Service Fund. This fund plays a critical role in ensuring the smooth flow of hospital operations and these institutions cannot operate without it.

“It is meant to cushion the unpredictable flow of funds from the Treasury in cases of drug shortages as well as repairs and maintenance. If it is centralised in Treasury, the cumbersome procedures and delays encountered by hospitals in accessing the funds will only worsen health service provision by these institutions,” the  report read.

The committee also said the country must not continue relying on donor funds to finance the health sector. “Donor funding to the health sector is still significant (42,6 percent). The high dependence on external resources compromises sustainability of health care should external funding be withdrawn.

“More so, donor funding is selective and disease specific (TB, malaria and HIV/Aids). Whilst the committee appreciates the progressive procurement of contraceptives, its concern is on the fact that the Treasury is not funding vaccines, leaving a lot of children exposed in the event that donor funds dry up or if donors shift priorities,” said the report.

Meanwhile, Parliament is pushing for the government to introduce a national health insurance. “Government must introduce national health insurance in the long term as a solution to guaranteeing sustainable health care services,” the report said

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