Drug cartels, Natpharm stifling health sector

Source: Drug cartels, Natpharm stifling health sector | The Herald May 14, 2019

Drug cartels, Natpharm stifling health sectorChairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care Dr Ruth Labode (centre) leads parliamentarians during a fact-finding tour of the the National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) in this file picture amid allegations of stockpiling of essential drugs

Forward Nyanyiwa Correspondent
To borrow a bit from a speech by America’s 44th President, Barack Obama, that Zimbabwe’s health sector is facing a man-made crisis is now well understood.

This is largely a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some compatriots.

At the end of the day, there is need to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age at a time the country is in the clutches of cartels that have besieged the health sector — and others that are not subject of this submission.

Our nation is at war, yes! War against far-reaching network of cartels and lazy public servants who have been in a marriage plucked from hell, not only to stifle the health sector in particular, but the Second Republic in general.

In recent weeks, there have been shrill calls first from the First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, the recently appointed health ambassador; and then from Dr Obadiah Moyo, the Minister of Health and Child Care; over the manner in which the custodians of the nation’s drug warehouse have been accused of deliberately withholding large stocks of drugs at the expense of patients who have been made to feel the brunt of the “out-of-stock” narrative for too long.

Natpharm managers, for reasons best known to themselves, have been sitting on stockpiles of life-saving and pain-killing medicines at their Harare warehouse whereas hospitals and clinics have been operating with empty drug cupboards.

Reports of theft and leakages haven’t helped matters and this prompted Mai Mnangagwa to ask: “We have heard of leakage medicines, how did that happen? Why are there such leakages? Are you aware that people are suffering out there?

“Why is it that clinics are complaining that there is no medicine yet you have boxes piled here, what are the donors going to say, why are all these boxes stocked? I went to Mashonaland Central and found some pharmacies empty. The situation on the ground is untenable and I want to understand where medicines are going, is it theft …,” she asked on May 2, 2019.

This was before Dr Moyo censured the same managers with some tongue-lashing during a visit at their warehouse on May 5. “Are you using them yourself, maybe you are taking the medication yourself, maybe you are all sick.

“We do not have to come from head office to commandeer you; you are all people who are employed. You are paid, so work in line with the pay you are receiving, this is the Second Republic. Time of laziness went with the First Republic, if you do not want to work, chose somewhere else. We do not want people who just think of tea,” said a fuming Dr Moyo.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made it clear in his two inauguration speeches that it is no longer business as usual for civil servants; people have to earn their day at work.

Zimbabwe’s health care, once the pride of Southern Africa, has been on a nose-dive due to a cocktail of negatives mainly camouflaged by the hostile US-induced illegal sanctions and this has been a thorny issue for many ordinary Zimbabweans.

People from all walks of life have been finding it difficult to access basic medicines for coughs and diarrhoea and most health institutions have for a long time been operating on shoestring budgets. Basics like bandages, latex gloves and painkillers have been scarce in hospitals or if available, beyond the reach of many and this has been going for too long.

However, since the Second Republic, President Mnangagwa has been on a charm offensive, endevouring to get back into the community of nations for help. This has seen India partnering Zimbabwe in a major drugs deal in which the latter has managed to stock the basics at Natpharm.

Enter the Natpharm managers.

There has been a calculated and well-knit web of some alleged managers who have been sitting on the drugs that President Mnangagwa sourced only for them to channel the drugs on to the black market. This at the expense of the patient in Uzumba.

No one could explain to the minister or the First Lady why there were stockpiles of drugs at Natpharm whereas the clinics where dry. It is evident that the alleged drugs scam is sadly real and this has been happening for a long time. Sourced drugs have been channelled to private pharmacies and this has negatively affected the already asphyxiated sector which is calling for resuscitation.

The situation has now been compounded by drug cartels with privilege to import drugs but have been holding the country to ransom through some shady deals.

The health sector remains one of the key areas the Second Republic has been working on, the reason why it has a good chunk of the National Budget after education and defence. Amai Mnangagwa has led from the front in order to bring smiles to ordinary patients and she needs everyone’s support.

Drug cartels have no room in the Second Republic and Government must swiftly intervene before all the energy being expended by Dr Moyo and Amai Mnangagwa is put to waste. A forensic audit is needed at Natpharm to flush out the alleged leakages and there has to be an explanation as to why drugs have been lying idle for this long.

There is need to revisit the laws that govern the importation of basic drugs to the interest of ordinary citizens and drug cartels brought to book. It is now time for a renewed drug importation policy that must actively drive the  national interest rather than partisan (read cabal) interests.

The medicines sector of late has been under siege from fortune hunters who are abusing their dealership agreements for critical medicines at the expense of national health.

The country cannot afford any more people-induced drug leakages and hoarding without explanation. How can Natpharm stock drugs for no reason when rural clinics are dry? Can Natpharm managers explain the rationale of not releasing the drugs if they are still not expired?

Now that they have been censured, we hope there is going to be a shift in their work and they must now start to earn their keep. We hope their report which the First Lady demanded will be made public for the sake of accountability.

As the drugs cartels continue to brazenly stifle the Second Republic, security arms must now be alert to such sabotage which has brought suffering and anguish to the Zimbabwean citizenry. Government must now consider regulating the prices of drugs as a way of fostering discipline in this all important sector that has been hold to ransom by fortune hunters.