PHARMACEUTICAL companies yesterday said they had heeded government’s directive to stop demanding hard currency for drugs, but pleaded with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to consistently allocate them adequate foreign currency to ensured smooth supply of imported drugs and other materials.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the weekend warned that pharmacies charging in foreign currency risked cancellation of their licences.
Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) president Portifa Mwendera said most retail pharmacies had complied with the directive.
He said pharmacies had resorted to charging in hard currency as the last resort since suppliers were also demanding payment in foreign currency.
“It is a supply chain issue and government had the critical role to allocate forex to that supply chain, which it has regrettably failed to do consistently. This led to the industry incurring a debt of $27 million for credit supplies, which are now overdue,” he said.
“Further supplies without this debt overhang became a challenge until importers started asking for forex to fund further receipts into the country, and the only way of getting that forex was from the patients since government had failed to provide.”
“The challenge in ensuring that a position has been carried out throughout the chain comes from the high number of outlets around, but we also rely on patients’ feedback as we mainly work on peer review,” he said.
Mwendera said they were also concerned by the apparent neglect of pharmacy services in public sector facilities, which has seen private pharmacies emerging as the providers of essential medicines.
“The current scenario was never meant to be and should not be, if we are to ensure that access to health is guaranteed. The government is meant to provide medicines to the public through the pharmacy units that are available at all public health facilities – clinics, district hospitals, provincial hospitals and central hospitals, including council clinics,” Mwendera said.
Early this year, health workers downed tools demanding the provision of adequate equipment and drugs in public health institutions.
Mwendera said the current scenario where this exercise has been delegated to the private sector needs government to then provide adequate foreign currency for the necessary importations – just as they do for fuel and wheat – for effective delivery.
“An allocation of US$5 million in this fourth quarter cannot meet a fortnight’s medicine requirements for the nation,” he said.
Fortune Nyamande of the Doctors for Human Rights Association said, while they agreed totally that drugs must be available at accessible prices and in local currency, it was prudent for fiscal authorities to ensure adequate and constant supplies of foreign currency to the pharmaceutical sector.
“What we are witnessing currently as an endless back and forth between government and the retail pharmaceutical sector is very unfortunate. Patients are defaulting chronic condition medications, worsening the quality of life and increasing morbidity and mortality,” Nyamande said.