Health Denies Blame for Shortage

THE Ministry of Health and Social Services has finally confirmed the shortage of medicines, but denies responsibility.

Although the health ministry spokesperson, Ester Paulus, could not give a list of the medicines in short supply, she singled out antiretroviral drugs, saying only the “second line of treatment” was unavailable.

Responding to questions during an information-sharing session at the Windhoek Central Hospital on Friday, Paulus said there was a delay and that the ministry was “experiencing logistical problems”.

“Yes, we have a delay, but this is only short-term and not a major concern,” she said, emphasising that 98% of ARVs are still in stock.

Paulus said the hiccup lay with the manufacturers, revealing that 99% of medicines are imported and local suppliers like Fabupharm only provide on a limited scale.

“We place orders but the medicines arrive late. We want to consider offering incentives for investors to start manufacturing the medicines locally,” she said.

Paulus said the issue of the medicine shortage will only be addressed once the country has its own pharmaceutical manufacturers.

An interruption in the ARV treatment programme could result in drug resistance for patients at a later stage, but the health ministry denied that there might be consequences as the delay was only temporary although she admitted that the ministry resorted to administering children’s medicine to adults as substitute in the meantime.

“The problem is that demands for these medicines keep increasing. We still have the first line of treatment of ARV’s available, but the supply of the second line of ARV’s, which is follow-up medicine, is the one that is delayed,” she explained. Paulus said that the Tender Board of Namibia has approved a tender of N$300 million to buy some of these ARV’s.

Acting chief pharmacist at the Central Medical Stores, Tonata Ngulu said that recently there have been increasing incidences of some health officials stealing ARV’s from the shelves, which is a contributing factor to the shortage. Ngulu said both the Oshakati Intermediate Hospital and Windhoek Central Hospital have reported individuals who were caught stealing the medicine.

“I can only confirm that we have opened a case with the police against five people from the Windhoek Central Hospital who have been stealing ARV’s to treat private people,” he said.

“We want to send out a very g message to offenders and would-be-offenders to refrain from stealing medicine entrusted in their care,” said Ngulu. Ngulu could however not confirm if the culprits are still employed by the ministry.

He said the ministry has budgeted about N$700 million for pharmaceutical products, and some often get stolen. Ngulu assured the public that the temporary delay in the supply of the medicine would in no way affect treatment.

Ngulu also said that the country is currently facing a shortage of pharmacists, a problem government is addressing by recruiting overseas expertise. The government has had to appoint five pharmacists from Cuba because of the shortage.

“The few pharmacists we have, are overworked and the workload has increased, although we are in the process of training pharmacists at the moment,” he said.

Source : The Namibian