BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
PUBLIC health institutions in Matabeleland North and South provinces have reportedly run out of contraceptives, leaving most women stranded as they cannot afford the high prices charged by private pharmacies.
Director of family health in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Bernard Madzima said while for the whole country they had stock of most forms of contraceptives for five months, Matabeleland was experiencing some problems attributed to challenges in the distribution chain.
“Nationally stock is not less than five months, but Mat South and North there are distribution challenges. We are working with provincial pharmacy teams to redistribute the commodities,” he said.
According to reports, some of the facilities have gone for weeks without supplies, while a few had very low supplies of oral contraceptives, injectables and implants. The province is also facing a shortage of condoms, raising concerns of an increase in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
“The shortage undermines women’s reproductive health rights and increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies. There are also concerns that women may be forced to resort to unsafe abortions, as a result of unwanted pregnancies,” Fungisai Dube of the Citizens Health Watch said.
The health watchdog said most of the people in the province could not afford the contraceptives and were forced to do without. Private pharmacies were stocking some contraceptives, but the prices are prohibitive with some pharmacies charging in hard currency.
“Our worry is that young people will be forced to have unprotected sex, thereby increasing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The shortage of contraceptives will also impact teenagers with issues of teenage pregnancies,” Dube said.
Matabeleland province is one of the country’s poorest provinces and has the fourth highest number of teenage pregnancies.
“The province could continue to lag behind in its development if efforts are not stepped up to ensure reliable access to contraceptives. Family planning is a critical factor in reducing poverty. How do we meet our maternal health goals and promote family planning with these kinds of stock outs? Our national health systems need to be strengthened so we have reliable, steady supply of contraceptives country wide,” she said.