Friday, 22 May 2020

CANCER PATIENTS IN A BIND AS PHARMACIES DEMAND FOREX


CHRONIC patients are defaulting on essential medication as most pharmacies are demanding payment in foreign currency while those paying in local currency are made to pay more than even the prevailing black market rate.

The most common chronic illnesses in Zimbabwe are hypertension, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and asthma.

People with chronic illnesses are supposed to regularly take certain medication for a life time to reduce their risk of succumbing to the diseases.

The situation has resulted in many Zimbabweans defaulting while some reduce their doses, without the doctors’ consent, in a bid to stretch their supplies for longer.
Some patients have resorted to sourcing medication from Botswana and South African pharmacies, which are significantly cheaper.

However, following the closure of borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic, patients have been pushed into desperation as options in seeking healthcare and purchasing drugs are now limited.

What has worsened the situation for the sick is that many pharmacies are either declining medical aid or shortfalls are charged exorbitantly in foreign currency.

In a survey, a Chronicle news crew established that general practitioners charge between US$10 and US$20 for consultation while specialists charge up to US$50. 

Most patients cannot afford the charges that often come with an up to 50 percent shortfall if they are on medical aid but they need the consultations to get prescriptions or change a drug regimen.

They suffer a double blow if they fall sick due to defaulting because local hospitals which have since limited access to emergencies due to Covid-19 charge from $400 for admission per night.

Mpilo Central Hospital charges $160 per night and over $1 000 for its private ward which is temporarily closed.

The United Bulawayo Hospitals charges $800 per night and $4 000 for the private ward.

For the privately run Mater-Dei Hospital, admission charges per night are $2 715 in the general ward and $6 250 for the private ward.

Our news crew also discovered that pharmacies have different pricing for the medication in local currency which changes daily, though their pricing in USD is almost constant.


An elderly person on diabetes, hypertension and arthritis medication which is a common combination for the elderly, has to part with an average of US$30 per month or $1 650 as at yesterday’s pharmacy rates which ranged between 1:60 and 1:70.

The official rate is 1:25.

A medical doctor who preferred anonymity for professional reasons said defaulting on chronic medication was risky.

“It’s very bad and it’s dangerous. Someone who has been on hypertension medication for years should not abruptly stop taking medication. They can suffer a stroke or heart attack should their blood pressure shoot up. This can be fatal.

“Someone who is diabetic must not fall short of insulin. Blood sugar levels may go very high or may get very low and appropriate medication is required to regulate the levels of sugar in the blood. It happens that people default, it is a very unfortunate situation but a very dangerous one. It may cause sudden death or create resistance to medication, which may result in the patient needing stronger and more expensive drugs,” said the doctor.

One of the affected is a nurse from a local clinic who preferred anonymity but confirmed that she has defaulted her hypertension medication due to pricing.

“I work at a clinic and due to resource challenges, I struggle to buy my hypertension medication which has forced me to default a number of times. I often suffer from severe headaches and develop eye problems and of course I am at higher risk of having heart attack if I default on treatment,” she said.

“We get paid in the local currency and we cannot afford to buy tablets in forex as most pharmacies incentivise those with US dollars.” 

For Mrs Amanda Khumalo from Paddonhurst suburb, the burden is quadrupled as four of her relatives need medication for hypertension, arthritis, diabetes and asthma. “This is a monthly headache and I have since realised I cannot just walk in and buy medication without first comparing at least six pharmacies. My parents, mother-law, and grandmother are all on hypertension medication which means costs are multiplied by four,” she said.

“Both my mother and grandmother are diabetic which means more medication monthly. I have since discovered that there is a cheaper pharmacy in Cowdray Park suburb but the distance and cost of fuel makes it difficult.”

Mrs Khumalo from Paddonhurst suburb wishes there was a way chronic patients could access medication from a Government run pharmacy where they will “not suffer for having local currency”.

Miles away from Bulawayo are many chronic patients who have to travel to the city to purchase the medication.

A pharmacy client who identified himself as Mr Yedwa Khumalo (74) from Gwanda said he was having a tough time as a result of the lockdown as he could no longer buy some of his drugs in South Africa and

Botswana due to the closure of borders. Mr Khumalo said buying medication outside the country was cheaper compared to the prices of his chronic medication in Zimbabwean pharmacies. Chronicle


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