WHILE we have all been assured by authorities at the Health ministry that it is perfectly OK for people living with HIV and Aids to continue taking expired drugs, we are, however, very much concerned by the attitude of staff at the ministry and Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ).
The expired drugs incident, to us, raises many pertinent questions that our good friends tasked with safeguarding our health seem not aware of.
For us, what first raises our curiosity is how is it possible that after the manufacturer of those antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs stamped an expiry date on the tablets someone can extend the lifespan of those drugs by merely pronouncing it.
Does it mean that the expiry date is meaningless? We don’t want to cause any alarm or despondency but we just want to understand the science behind the expiry date.
More questions overwhelmed us when director of Aids and tuberculosis in the Health ministry, Owen Mugurungi, said: “When we acquired the last consignment of the ARVs, their expiry date was already approaching, but we could not avoid bringing them into the country because we needed the medicine.”
This is one very incredible explanation as to why we have all those expired drugs. Is Mugurungi telling us that there was no other choice from where the ministry could source those drugs?
The health sector, being one of those areas that is full of many ethical pitfalls, did whoever sold us those drugs ever consider that by the time the drugs reached the end user they would have expired?
Or did our authorities simply reckon that people living with HIV in this country were so desperate for the drugs that they would accept them?
In fact, some of us now want to know where and when did the ministry actually acquired those drugs? And, by the way, how large is the consignment?
Also, if the ministry has the rough number of people requiring ARVs and when a particular batch of drugs will be exhausted, why then does it end up buying drugs that are close to expiry?
Some, who are more curious than others, end up also wondering whether it is not possible that those drugs were actually being sold cheap because they were about to expire and that is probably why we were more than glad to grab them, given our sorry state in terms of the foreign currency status.
We may never know what exactly happened regarding these drugs, but we implore authorities at the Health ministry to be more prudent the next time they buy these drugs because the health sector is a very sensitive area that needs to be handled with extra care.
Despite MCAZ having assured us that it is still fine to use the drugs for the next six months, the issue may psychologically not go down well with the end-users of those drugs.
The ministry should, by all means, try and avoid such embarrassing incidents in the future.