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Zimbabwe pharmacies condemn the ill to death

10 Nov 2018 at 10:39hrs | Views
THE country's sick have been condemned to death in the country by pharmacies that remain defiant and demand foreign currency payments for drugs. Just watching the events at pharmacies unfold as the day goes by tells a sad story.

Patients are turned away with legal tender and told to bring foreign currency if they wish to purchase life saving drugs. It is most painful for the elderly, most of them pensioners who have chronic conditions and need constant supplies of medication for conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure.

The faces of the elderly tell a story of lost hope, frustration and dismay. Pharmacists just put on stern faces and politely turn away our mothers, fathers, and grandparents. This is not only unfair; it is cruel, appalling and insensitive.

Quality healthcare should be for everyone and it is high time that Government acted on such as it is leaving vulnerable members of our society out in the cold, without hope. Nobody goes to the pharmacy just for fun.

Most people go there to look for life saving drugs and to be turned away because they cannot afford to get American dollars just doesn't hold water, especially when Government is making frantic efforts to cushion the pharmaceutical industry. Within the last month, Government disbursed close to US$10 million for the procurement of drugs.

Surely this means that while the burden is still there, it was eased for pharmacies and the effects should get to the patients who buy medication from drug stores. Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe president Mr Portipher Mwendera recently said pharmacies were going to prioritise procurement of drugs for chronic illnesses such as BP and diabetes. However, it is appalling to find that pharmacies are still defiant and demanding forex from sick people who are already vulnerable due to their ill health. One wonders if good health is still for everyone in Zimbabwe or if it is now a preserve for a selected few that can afford to find forex.

With pharmacies now demanding forex up front across the country, the sick may have as well been condemned to death as most Zimbabweans have no source of forex. While it is understandable that pharmacies source most of the drugs outside the country, it is not fair for them to demand payment in US$. More so, it is somewhat scandalous considering that Government availed over US$3,6 million dollars for the procurement of drugs.

Cashing in on such a situation is not good. A snap survey across various pharmacies in Bulawayo revealed that there is now a three tier pricing system. Prices of drugs are now pegged in United States dollar and South African rand.

At the few pharmacies that accept bond notes, EcoCash and swipe, the process is ridiculous. For instance, if paracetamol costs US$4, it is pegged at between $16 and $20 in swipe and bond notes.

What most pharmacies are doing is not good as it is in direct contrast with Government efforts to provide quality healthcare for all. Most service providers have gone into overdrive in profiteering and seem to care less about the welfare of consumers.

The practice is by any definition unprofessional, unethical and even criminal as it is meant to take advantage of a situation and fleece citizens of their hard earned cash. It also has far reaching consequences as it can be used by political and social activists to coerce masses to turn against government as people feel the pinch of biting prices.

We are faced with such a scenario in the country where service providers and retailers are increasing prices willy-nilly without any backing from the books of economics. President Mnangagwa has spoken strongly against such practices, and more efforts need to be taken to bring back normalcy particularly in the retail sector where prices of basic goods have been going up on a daily basis.

Some claim it is because of shortages of foreign currency, however it is puzzling considering that even those dealing in goods manufactured locally have also joined the band wagon. The latest craze in the pharmaceutical world has seen public and private sector pharmacies demanding forex for insulin.

The Zimbabwe Diabetes Association has repeatedly slammed pharmacies for demanding forex for diabetes drugs. However, it seems the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Those operating pharmacies, I wish to believe, are committed to saving lives and as such are expected to be sensitive to the plight of the sick. Demanding payment in US dollars is as good as condemning the sick to death because most of them do not have the forex.

Government has urged pharmacies to accept medical aid payments as well as the different forms of payments which include bond notes and electronic transfers. Pharmacies should use the little resources at their disposal to save lives while the issue of forex shortages is being addressed as there can be no reversal to loss of human life. Most private pharmacies are still demanding payments in US dollars despite government's efforts to ensure that they have the required forex to enable them to buy the drugs.

While it is quite understandable beyond reasonable doubt that what is being allocated is too little to meet demand, while this is being addressed, pharmacies should make drugs and medicines accessible to the sick.

The current price distortions should be halted and the price hike madness prevailing in the country should come to a stop as people's resources will not keep up with the galloping prices. Lives still need to be saved and physicians will still prescribe drugs. Authorities should call to order whoever is behind this fiasco.


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