Ray of hope for health sector
TIMOTHY Moyo has been living with diabetes for 16 years and has always religiously taken his insulin injections. As a teacher with three schoolgoing children, over the years Moyo could afford on his meagre salary to take care of his family and buy his insulin that he injects four times a day to manage his type two diabetes.
This was until recently when the 50-year-old was hospitalised after his sugar levels drastically dropped after he missed several doses of insulin as he cannot afford the pensets anymore. “I use three sets of insulin pensets per month and 60 units per day. In October last year, the last time I bought them, I had to pay a whopping $200 for a set, but now they are too expensive for my meagre salary. “My brother had offered to buy them for me but he has stopped as he can no longer afford them as the price keeps going up. Instead of having four injections per day, I have reduced to two,” Moyo said sorrowfully. Moyo said his family and friends had already writing his obituary when he was admitted to hospital as he was paying an arm and a leg.
However, last week there was a glimmer of hope for Moyo after the government entered into a partnership with Novartis, a Swish-based organisation, to provide cheaper medication for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes and cancer. Instead of parting with US$20, which is equivalent to $440 in local currency on the black market, medication for NCDs will cost US$1 per month. Head of Southern Africa Country Group-Pharma Novartis, Vincent Rossignol, said for now they are providing drugs for NCDS, but will expand as time goes on.
“We are here because we have a very ambitious programme. We want to make sure our drugs are affordable to the majority of the population in Zimbabwe. We are very dedicated to the future of the country. We have been here for many years and we want to be relevant. “We want to find out the key challenges that are being faced by the population. We are hopeful that through making drugs affordable and partnering in some of the activities, we will help strengthen the healthcare system,” Rossignol said.
This development comes as thousands of Zimbabweans now feel they have been condemned to death because of drug shortages and the punishing fees that are being demanded in formal hospitals. To most patients, there is a thin line between life and death. In the past, hospitals were a safe haven for the sick, with the government having a vision of making health accessible for both the rich and poor. However, public health institutions have become death traps.
The health sector is dogged by a number of challenges, including shortages of drugs, equipment and foreign currency which have translated into exorbitant fees, with footprints of the bad economy written all over. Staff shortages have also been added to the list as doctors, who have been on strike for close to four months, are incapacitated. The government on the other hand believes its partnership with Novartis is a positive move towards addressing the sea of challenges in the health sector. Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo said the partnership would make significant contributions towards the health sector. “We are happy with that and we have already placed an order with them. As you are aware right now in Zimbabwe we are desperately looking for medication and we have a partner here who is going to be able to help us stock our warehouses and ensure that hospitals have adequate medicines,” Moyo said. “We want to appreciate Novartis for helping our healthcare system. Our doctors will be able to prescribe and patients will be able to get the medicines that they want at an affordable price. It’s an issue of availability and affordability of the medicines.”
Although the government believes the move will help lure striking senior doctors, who cited drug shortages as one of their reasons for downing tools, back to work, Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) secretary general Aaron Musara said the medical practitioners appreciate the government’s efforts, but more still needed to be done to alleviate their plight. “We have heard about the consignments of medicines and sundries that the government is said to be bringing. We have asked the government to attend to three fundamental issues which will enable doctors to be able to resume work. We hope the government will look at the issues holistically,” Musara said.
Among the fundamentals, doctors want their salaries reviewed and are also demanding a safe working environment with adequate equipment and medicines. Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) director Itai Rusike told the Daily News on Sunday that although the partnership will make significant contributions in the health sector, domestic health financing needs to be improved in order to sustain delivery of drugs and address new challenges, such as the rising levels of NCDs. “We welcome the gesture from Norvatis to provide the highly subsidised drugs for NCDs.
Hopefully there will be a trickle-down effect in making sure that the drugs reach the lower levels of the health delivery system such as clinics in rural areas where they are needed most. “We hope that the government will provide adequate resources for storage, distribution and minimise loss of the drugs due to theft and leakages,” Rusike said. Rusike said it is the organisation’s hope that the government will not relax after the partnership and ignore other challenges that need immediate attention. “We hope that the government will now not fold its hands and take a back seat because of the support from Norvatis as it still remains the responsibility of the State to take care of its vulnerable populations. Over-reliance on external partners is not sustainable and there’s always a risk of being left exposed in the event of a fallout with the donors,” he added.
The CWGH director also urged civil society organisations to take a more active role in the current system for drug management in ensuring that appropriate medicines reach the community, are secure and are used appropriately.