BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
GOVERNMENT-RUN National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) is reportedly struggling to meet demand for drugs at public health institutions, resulting in acute shortages of critical medicines across the country.
Last year, government gave NatPharm a monopoly to procure drugs, banning public institutions from purchasing drugs from private pharmaceutical companies.
This resulted in Natpharm getting overburdened and failing to meet demand.
Health ministry secretary Air Commodore Jasper Chimedza declared NatPharm the sole supplier of drugs for public health institutions in a circular dated December 13, 2021.
“Solicitations of these products from suppliers in the private sector should only be done after NatPharm confirmed inability to supply the products within the required period,” Chimedza said.
Public health sector stakeholders yesterday told NewsDay that NatPharm had, however, not admitted that it had no capacity to supply drugs to health institutions, despite many waiting for months for replenishment of out-of-stock drugs.
This has resulted in some hospitals turning away patients, especially those suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and psychiatric patients due to drug shortages.
A pharmacist at a local public health institution who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “We have a serious shortage of drugs such as insulin and oral drugs for diabetic patients and those related to hypertension. This has been going on for some months and we don’t remember when we last adequately attended to patients suffering from diabetes, for instance. We get funds from government, but when we want to buy the supplies from NatPharm, we fail to get them. Sometimes, we get a fraction of the full quantities we would have ordered. The challenge is that NatPham is not admitting that it is failing to provide the drugs. We cannot purchase them from private companies as prescribed by government.”
Another medical superintendent added: “The other challenge is that we are getting drugs with a very close expiry date. Some drugs we get won’t last for more than two months. Just recently, we got a consignment of drugs from NatPharm that are expiring next month. We have plenty of them and we won’t have disbursed all of them by next month. We are definitely going to dispose of them yet we would have used funds.”
Health ministry spokesperson Donald Mujiri refused to comment on the matter and referred questions to NatPharm spokesperson Munyaradzi Masiiwa, who rubbished the claims saying it was a tactic by public health institutions to be allowed to purchase drugs from private pharmaceutical companies.
“NatPharm receives annual procurement plans for public health institutions and operationalises them. It is inaccurate that we supply short-dated medicines to hospitals. Short-dated medicines are only given to public health institutions as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility, and are supplied for free to willing facilities. Whenever we do a donation, hospitals request what they want to consume. Some of the public health institutions have received medicines on credit and to date more than $140 million worth of drugs have been supplied to public health institutions on credit. It is, therefore, inaccurate for the institutions to claim that they bring money upfront to NatPharm for procurement of medicines,” Musiiwa said.