Zimbabwe stuck with expired medical drugs, says committee

15 September 2019

By Robin Muchetu

Dr Ruth Labode Health and Child Care Committee Chairperson

AT a time when the country is facing drug shortages, it has been revealed that the company mandated to store and distribute medical supplies of public health institution, NatPharm, is stocked with expiring drugs. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Heath and Child Care went on a fact finding mission in February and March this year to establish the state of medicines and drugs supply in the public health institutions. In a report released after the fact finding mission and presented to Parliament recently it was noted that the institution was still stocked with expiring drugs. According to the report, NatPharm still has huge piles of expired medicines and drugs in its warehouse and issues of its capitalisation were yet to be attended to. “Five years later, the newly constituted Committee on Health and Child Care undertook a familiarisation visit to NatPharm on the 12th of February 2019. The Committee’s findings were disheartening in that NatPharm was still dogged by the above-mentioned problems. It still had huge piles of expired medicines and drugs in its warehouse and issues of its capitalisation have not yet been attended to,” read part of the report. According to the report, the committee also found that like in 2014, drugs were expiring at Rural Health Centres and District Hospitals while the Central Hospitals were in need of the same drugs. This noted the committee was due to lack of an effective redistribution system of the distributed drugs to reduce the quantities of drugs expiring. During the familiarisation visit to NatPharm, the committee expressed its disapproval on the proposed idea for NatPharm to establish retail pharmacies across the country, at a time when the public health institutions did not have medicines. “The majority of our population cannot afford medicines from the private pharmacies and rely predominantly on the public sector. Hence, the Committee proposed that the public health institutions be well stocked with medicines to improve on accessibility and affordability of the products to the general population,” it read. There are five main local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies namely: Varichem, Plus 5, CAPS, Datlabs and Pharmanova. “Unfortunately, the current state of equipment and manufacturing processes has affected their ability to produce vital drugs and medicines in the country. At the time of the enquiry, capacity utilisation of the industry was, on average running below 40 percent primarily due to inadequate foreign currency allocations,” the report noted. The committee said restrictive regulatory framework affects the ability of the local manufacturers to produce vital drugs and medicines in the country. Lack of investment in technology and equipment (obsolete equipment) in the pharmaceutical industry; and lack of innovative research in the country owing to the current economic hardships was noted as a challenge too. According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe is buying 80 percent of its medicines and drugs from India. The chairperson of the committee Dr Ruth Labode said medicines need to be distributed equally among institutions instead of using a first come first serve approach.“I think the Ministry of Health (and Child Care) and the pharmacist profession need to come up and do what was done yester year where there were pharmacists at provincial hospitals and NatPharm never allocated one who ever comes first but rather divided medicines equally in the country and the fact that you have got a specific drug does not follow that people that need that drug will come to your institution. If you see that you have got too much of it, you are supposed to phone or circulate in a system to say I am overstocked by this drug, which needs it?” she said.

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