Shortage of anti-malaria drugs, particularly Lumefantrine Artemether commonly known as LA, has hit most of the country’s public health facilities, including some referral hospitals.
A snap check in some public health facilities across the country revealed that most of them are running without the essential drugs despite the Ministry of Health saying it has enough medicine in warehouses.
The ministry’s spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe confirmed the shortage yesterday, but pushed the blame to the facilities’ administrators for not accounting for the medicines they receive.
Besides the anti-malaria drugs, some facilities such as Karonga District Hospital, have been running without any essential drug after the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) stopped supplying due to budget exhaustion.
The development is putting lives of many Malawians at risk as experts say malaria is the biggest cause of morbidity and mortality in Malawian children under the age of five.
The disease is also the cause of four in every 10 deaths (40 percent) of children under the age of two.
The World Health Organisation also says children under five suffer on average 9.7 malaria episodes per year, while adults suffer 6.1 such episodes.
Statistics show that about 500 000 malaria patients are treated every month in public and Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) health facilities, claiming around 110 lives on average each day.
This is worse than HIV and Aids deaths which, according to the 2015 HIV and Aids estimates, stood at 27 000 deaths per year translating to about 74 deaths per day.
Chikumbe confessed that the drug was not being dispensed because authorities at such health facilities have failed to comply with the requirement that demands them to reconcile how the drugs are used.
“We are aware that some public health facilities may not have anti-malarial drugs especially LA. But this is due to poor reporting by responsible officers because they are supposed to account for every stock they receive as per requirement from those who provide the drugs,” explained Chikumbe.
Over 90 percent of Malawi’s drug budget has over the years been funded by donors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the British Department for International Development (DfID).
In the absence of proper reconciliation, Chikumbe said it becomes difficult for the ministry to determine each facility’s consumption as it varies from time to time due to weather patterns.
He said some facilities have not reported on how they used the drugs for more than six months when they are supposed to do that on a monthly basis.
Health rights activist Maziko Matemba said it was unfortunate that issues of lack of essential medicines keep on emerging when this was supposed to be the baseline of the country’s health care system.
He observed that the development only shows that something was still amiss in the country’s health care systems, which pose a great danger to people’s well-being.
“Time has now come that we have total accountability to issues that matter most to Malawians. We need more clarification from the health sector on why drug shortages is continuing and putting patients at risk,” said Matemba who is the executive director of Health Rights Education Programme (Hrep).
But Chikumbe argued that the ministry has adequate anti-malarial drugs to supply to public facilities as long as responsible officers comply with the condition.
On average, the Ministry of Health distributes about 800 000 doses of anti-malaria drugs per month.
During this rainy season, demand for LA is reportedly high because of the multiply of mosquitoes.