A shortage of basic drugs has been looming since last year, a situation that is becoming increasingly serious with most essential drugs having run out of stock in many of Harare’s health facilities.
The Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA) last month warned that those living with chronic illnesses were at risk as drugs such as insulin — used for diabetes management —psychiatric drugs, and anaesthetics, would have disappeared by February.
There has been a downplaying of the seriousness of the situation by authorities, but what is clear is that like many other imported products, drug supplies are being affected by the foreign currency shortage.
While many pharmacies are short-stocked, a thriving informal market for prescriptions has sprung up at the fourth street bus terminus.
The informal supply of medicines carries with it the risk of expired medicines being sold, or incorrect amounts leading to overdose or drug resistance.
A critical vaccine, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, popularly known as BCG, that is given to babies to combat Tuberculosis is reported to have run out at council clinics. Harare Hospital is reported to be out of syringes. Missing vaccines vastly increases the possibility of a child contracting many easily-preventable diseases.
Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals — the country’s largest referral centre — last month issued a statement announcing a shortage in the Atracurium injection used in surgeries to relax skeletal muscles.
“As Parirenyatwa Hospital, we are left with less than two weeks of stock. This means we have a looming disaster, as Atracurium is one of the major anaesthetic medicines used in surgery . . .
“We therefore cannot afford to reduce our surgical operations, which will have to be done if we do not receive more stock of the Atracurium injection soon,” read part of the statement issued by the hospital’s chief pharmacist, Davison Viragu.
This follows the pulling out of the UK-based pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), from the Zimbabwean market, which happened to be the only registered supplier.
This resulted in the hospital, together with other health institutions, including Avenues Clinic and Harare Hospital, seeking alternative sources through wholesalers. This solution did not hold for long however, as foreign payments by local suppliers’ bankers to foreign suppliers were delayed.
Other hospitals cancelled elective surgical operations indefinitely after a nationwide shortage of the pain-relieving drug Pethidine — used in emergency and post-surgery.
An appeal was made to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) for priority of payment remittances for pharmaceutical importers to avert the drug crisis.
RBZ has since remitted payments for foreign importers, but can only remit $2 million per month, as foreign currency is limited.