…….MoH confirms shortage of drugs, medical accessories
By Kombe Mataka
MINISTRY of Health permanent secretary in-charge of technical services Lackson Kasonka has admitted that there is a shortage of drugs and medical accessories because procurement has delayed in a bid to correct anomalies experienced under the PF regime.
In an interview, Professor Kasonka said he was aware of the critical drug shortages currently being faced by public health facilities.
“The systems have changed because we don’t want a repeat of the Honeybee (scandal). When we almost procured some participants in the procurement process raised some concerns. They said ‘no there was no transparency’.
This government is very sensitive. Any complaints that are being generated by the members of public need to be taken into account. So that is how we stopped the procurement of drugs, procurement that could have been effected two months ago,” he said.
“We wanted to address the concerns of other participants in the supply system. In the past, procurement used to be done by one company that is compliant with the system. We do not want that. So, when the concerns were raised by two of the pharmaceutical companies, we stopped so that this does not affect the people.”
He said the same issue was earlier raised by health minister Sylvia Masebo a few weeks back.
“If you remember, in one of the COVID-19 updates someone took to the microphone and addressed the minister saying ‘the procurement was not transparent because it was done during the transition’. We, the PSs, just came in and we did not participate,” Prof Kasonka said.
“So, the minister said ‘look, because there are complaints from some of the suppliers in the supply system that are aggrieved, let us address this’. That is how we stopped this and went to the drawing board and started again.”
He however acknowledged concerns from the Resident Doctors Association of Zambia (RDAZ), describing them as legitimate.
Prof Kasonka said he was also personally concerned about the shortage of medicines in health facilities.
“Procurement of medicines for 18 million people is a big undertaking so it is supposed to go through various stages approved by the Zambia Procurement Authority (ZPPA). That is the stage we are at. But me I am very concerned with the absence of medicines in the hospitals and the concerns by the young doctors is also legitimate, if you put it this way,” he said.
“But what is important is that we do the right thing. We want to put things correctly so that there is no outcry. There is no doubt, there is no frustration, or suspicions associated with corruption as has been the case in the past. It has taken three months. I am hoping that in the coming few days, we have medicines. What I can say is, procurement has reached an advanced stage.”
Prof Kasonka bemoaned pilfering of medicines, adding that the government was working on ceiling the loopholes.
“Now procuring medicine is one thing. What is of importance to me is that when procurement of medicine is done, the expectation is high. People are waiting. We have to put in measures to ensure security of those medicines. When the medicines go into pharmacies, you know people have a mentality ‘ni va boma’ (it’s government supplies) when that is huge amounts of money,” Prof Kasonka added.
“We have to make sure the prescribers, the same junior doctors who are talking and then the pharmacist, secure the medicines so that government does not procure medicines using lots of money – in a few weeks and months, we start procuring again. Like the same old situation, we don’t want that.”
He however said money was available for procurement and that what was delaying was to ensure the process was transparent.
“Procurement is supposed to be done in a transparent manner. It should not raise any suspicion of corruption. Money, we have, government has allocated money. We can procure tonnes and tonnes of medicines to last five years but that medicine can just last one year because people get excited. They say ‘niva boma’ or there is plenty. They start to pilfer, steal,” he said.
Prof Kasonka explained how government medicines have found themselves in private health facilities.
He emphasised the government’s quest to seal loopholes in medical supplies pilfering.
“Remember, we have got private outlets selling medicines and what we are insisting and why things are taking long is that those who will supply the medicine to us should label the medicines as for GRZ so that this medicine does not find itself in private facilities,” Prof Kasonka said.
“You agree with me that private facilities are over town. So for me sitting at Ndeke House (Ministry of Health headquarters), how do I make sure that the medicine I have supplied to UTH doesn’t find itself in the commercial outlet just next to it or in any of those Kabwata stores?
So, the story will continue that government does not have medicine yet there is government medicine in the commercial outlets. So, we want to put in place all these full proof measures such as to engrave the medicine or label the medicine. Currently, it is not everything that is labelled – it is just IV fluids. All these penicillins are not.”
Prof Kasonka said although labeling the medicines was a cost it would still be done to correct the situation.
“We want to see that all those who should supply to us they should make sure that it is labelled. As you know it is an investment. It is a cost for those to label and it is not every supplier that has the capacity.
So those suppliers who do not have that capacity will say you are sideling us! It is a big vicious circle. These are the different issues we go through with the intention of satisfying everybody so that there is no outcry,” he said.
“You see, labelling is not taking a pen and writing on the medicine. It is incorporating it into the manufacturing. Many, especially the small-scale suppliers, cannot do that. Nevertheless, we have to take care of all these.”
Prof Kasonka said he sympathised with hospital authorities and patients about the drug situation but that it was wrong for people to say the procurement was delaying at the expense of people’s lives.
“So, it is a question of how do I sit here at Ndeke House and trust my pharmacist and doctors who are crying the loudest that there is no medicine in the hospitals? Some of these are singing this because it is for their own benefit.
It is not that they’re singing for the patient. They want the medicine to come so that they earn a living because as government we will just be opening a tap and the water will just be draining out to the bottom,” he said.
“You heard what happened at Kasama General Hospital, a pharmacy technician in collusion with other members of the community at night they were coming and opening the pharmacy. They load it and take it over. To say that we are doing it at the expense of deaths is not correct.
Yes, I know there are things like swabs, IVF fluids, are also absent. And of course there are a lot of things that are required even for the operations that are done in their theatre, for instance. So, we are trying to ensure all that is procured.”
He accused doctors of sometimes making bad prescriptions for patients, hence the shortages in medical supplies.
“The same fellows who are crying, my junior doctors, they will be the first ones to make bad prescriptions. When I say bad prescriptions, I mean if a person who has malaria goes to the clinic, they will prescribe even what a patient does not need because it is available. Ni va boma. It is free but nothing is free because someone is paying for that,” said Prof Kasonka.
“They will prescribe four different types of medicines. For God’s sake you will kill a person! It is not every illness that requires medication. Some of that medicine can injure your kidneys when combined. So, because there are not so many drugs they are feeling that they are not doing their job.”