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Zimbabweans turn to medicinal herbs as the cost of drugs soars

In a country where people are struggling to put food on the table, consumer buying power has been eroded.

PEOPLE are flooding traditional herbal markets, as prices of prescription drugs spike and the public health delivery system deteriorates at an alarming rate, under pressures from a relentless economic crisis, experts have said.

This comes as regulators, Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ), threw caution against unregistered medicine.

Many of the vital drugs that patients require are readily available in private hospitals and pharmacies, but are unaffordable to the majority of Zimbabweans.

In a country where people are struggling to put food on the table, consumer buying power has been eroded.

Private players also demand United States dollars.

Experts said as a result, millions were trooping to traditional medicines.

But it is a market fraught with dangers, according to experts.

It is a repeat of the health crisis that shook the country in 2008, when the domestic unit crashed under 500 billion percent inflation, leading to the crumbling of State hospitals and clinics.

Itai Rusike, a public health specialist, said it was increasingly difficult for patients to access drugs in public health institutions.

“Foreign currency shortages undermine drug purchases, hence the significant drop in drug availability at urban and rural clinics due to the increased stock-outs of vital drugs, reducing confidence in the system.

“This represents an unfair cost burden on poor communities. It also opens the way for the growth of private unregulated drug markets and traditional herbal medicine is clearly one way that poor communities are making up for the falling availability of and access to western medicines,” he said.

However, George Kandiero, president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association threw caution against the use of herbal medicines, which are sold on the streets and other back stage markets.

“It is very unhygienic for you to be selling your wares on 4th Street (a common herbal medicine market in Harare),” he said, emphasising that patients must make use of registered traditional healers.

“The advantage of someone (a traditional healer) who is registered is that you are thoroughly inspected and there are standards that you must follow.

“At times you see some of the funny things that people are putting into their bodies, which are very harmful. They do not know how long they would have stayed on the streets.

“The credibility of registered practitioners is being put at risk. This happens in any other profession where someone is doing a shady job. People end up thinking everyone who is in that profession does the same. Something should be done,” Kandiero added.

MCAZ asserted that many herbal medicines fall under a broad category of medicines called complementary medicines and they can be used to treat some conditions or to supplement dietary nutrients like vitamins and minerals, among others.

“The risk in these medicines lies in that not all their side effects and medicinal interactions are known and herbal medicines can only be distributed through licensed wholesalers,” MCAZ said.  Caiphas Chimhete

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