Malawi drug shortage still high: Now at 80 percent

Barely two months after government told the nation that drugs availability was normalizing in the country’s hospitals it has actually been revealed that only 15 percent of drugs have so far been procured.

Minister of Health, Catherine Gotani Hara, told reporters in May the drug shortage was normalizing following the delivery of 80 percent of medicine and other pharmaceuticals procured by the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST).

“We have had a lot of supplies through well-wishers after President Joyce Banda sent SOS [save our souls] to the world. The president went to the United Kingdom where she managed to get 16 million pounds worth of drugs,” the minister said then.

However, latest information from the Central Medical Stores Trust, a department that procures and supplies medical drugs in the country, indicates that the body has only managed to procure 15 percent of the essential drugs.

This comes six months after CMST revealed Malawi was running dangerously low on essential drug supplies with a 95 percent stock-out.

A ward in the Presbyterian Church-sponsored Ekwendeni Hospital in northern Malawi.
A ward in the Presbyterian Church-sponsored Ekwendeni Hospital in northern Malawi.

Following the drug stock-out, health service delivery in public hospitals almost came to a standstill with reports indicating that the country recorded scores of preventable deaths in various hospitals due to the low stock-levels.

But CMST acting Executive Director, Fred Mzoma, has revealed that during the last five months his body has only managed to reduce the drug shortage from 95 percent to 80 percent.

“We had earlier reported that stock-outs were at 95 percent but now it has moved to 80 percent,” said Mzoma adding that the situation may improve further in the next two months when more drugs will start arriving in the country.

On why the drugs were taking long to arrive in the country, Mzoma blamed the development on logistical hiccups such as shipment.

The acting CMST head cited the Mozambique route which they use as one of the reasons contributing to late arrival of the drugs saying recent experience has shown that any cargo passing through that country takes long to arrive in Malawi.

After the SOS, development partners such as DFID, came in and joined hands with government and CMST to ensure that the drug stock-out is reduced.

Affected by the serious essential drug shortage, doctors at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe raised an alarm by sending an open letter to President Joyce Banda asking her to intervene by stopping public hospitals from becoming what they called a ‘waiting rooms for death.’

At KCH and other Malawi’s major referral hospital, patients were being turned back and asked to get treatment at private health facilities.

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