Saturday, 22 September 2018

ANGER AS DONATED HIV DRUGS ARE BLOCKED


LIFE-SAVING drugs worth millions of dollars, donated by the Global Fund, could soon go to waste after they were reportedly blocked from distribution and quarantined at government warehouses under unclear circumstances, at a time the country is facing a massive shortage of drugs due to foreign currency shortages.

Health activists and key populations, among them HIV and TB patients, yesterday called for urgent clearance of the drugs, some of which were shipped into the country several months ago, but are yet to reach the intended beneficiaries as a result of government red tape.

Documents gleaned by NewsDay Weekender and were now being widely circulated among health stakeholders and the international community show that the drugs were sourced under a Global Fund grant and donated to the health sector.

Some of the drugs include Acyclovir (200mg packs of 100) a quantity of 62 524, which arrived on July 22, 2018, but have not reached the key populations because they were quarantined.

Other medicines that were delivered but quarantined include Ceftriaxone (250mg vials) a quantity of 4 164, which arrived on June 13, 2018 but was quarantined.

Another shipment of Metronidaziole (250mg bottles and 1 000 tablets) was said to be ready, but the import permit was declined, while a drug called Aciclovir (200mg tablets, packs of 25 and a quantity of 5 572 were delivered on August 9, 2018, but quarantined, as well as Ceftriaxone (sodium salt 250mg powder for injection) and a quantity of 800 was delivered on June 5, 2018, but also quarantined.

Chairperson of Zimbabwe Women Living with HIV National Forum, Tendai Westerhof, said bureaucratic tendencies were stalling clearance and distribution of the drugs to the needy.
She suggested that the drugs in question could have been brought into the country before clearance by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ).

“The MCAZ works within their mandate to protect the consumer, but as key populations our main worry is that we need the responsible authorities to facilitate that the drugs are released so that they are tested by the MCAZ on time,” Westerhof said.

Contacted for comment, MMCZ spokesperson Richard Rukwanda said his organisation was not aware of the matter.

“At this point, I am not aware of any particular donation. But if there are any donors, they first apply to us and it is done before the consignment comes,” he said.

“We insist on testing what is on the consignment to see if it can be used. If any drug is quarantined, then there is always a reason because they need to be qualified to see if they are fit for usage, but for now, I am not aware of this donation.”

Westerhof said key populations were experiencing shortages of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STI) drugs, adding that the donated drugs were urgently needed.

“The earlier this drug issue is managed, the better in order to prevent more STIs. We still need to preach the message of condom use, but women are more vulnerable because they still have to negotiate condom use with their partners,” she said.

Former chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health, Ruth Labode, said it was shocking that some of the medicines were delivered in June, yet they had not been delivered to the key populations.

“The Ministry of Health needs to do something with immediate effect because this is scandalous. These drugs are from donors and it is gross mismanagement at the highest level that people suffering from STIs are experiencing shortages of drugs to treat them yet donated drugs are expiring,” Labode said.

“This is donor money and if these drugs expire, the Global Fund might end up punishing us.”

United Nations Development Programme programmes manager Emmanuel Boadi declined to comment on the issue, referring all questions to the Health and Child Care ministry.

“We act on behalf of the Ministry of Health and they are the ones that should answer to that,” Boadi said.

Newly-appointed Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo referred all questions to his permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji.

Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said it was sad to note that sick people failed to access treatment because of bureaucratic tendencies.

“We need to ensure there is no unnecessary bureaucracy, and this is an issue which needs to be addressed with the involvement of people living with HIV and Aids to ensure it is resolved quickly because Zimbabwe had achieved a lot in terms of dealing with HIV and it might lose its gains,” he said. Newsday

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