Public hospitals, especially district and referral centres, in Malawi have run out of 95 percent of essential drugs, Minister of Health Catherine Gotani-Hara disclosed in the capital Lilongwe on Tuesday.
She made the disclosure when she handed over medical supplies—antibiotics, cardiovascular and diabetes drugs—worth about $500 000 (over K170 million) donated by the United States of America-based organisation, AmeriCares, to the Malawi Government.
Said Gotani-Hara: “Currently, we are at approximately 95 percent stock-outs of medicines and supplies here at Central Medical Stores Trust [CMST]. This means we only have five percent of all the needed medicines and supplies for our public hospitals.
“The major contributing factor is that the last largest procurement of medicines and medical supplies for this country was done in October 2009. This was enough consignment to last 12 months. This situation definitely has impacted on the stock levels of medicines and supplies at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) since.”
She said district and referral hospitals are the hardest hit by the shortage whereas health centres are surviving on emergency drug kits provided by donors. The emergency kits were primarily for addressing severe primary health care ailments.
Said Gotani-Hara: “People in communities [served by health centres] are no longer sent back because of unavailability of medicines. For this, we remain grateful to our development partners. However, we are still experiencing inadequate supply of various secondary and tertiary level drugs that are largely needed at central hospitals.”
Drug and medical supplies shortages have reached critical levels in Malawi and last week, 15 doctors sent a strong plea to President Joyce Banda and Malawians, begging for a stop to the needless death of patients in public hospitals where even the most basic medicines have mostly stocked out.
The doctors’ plea, contained in an ‘Open Letter to the President and the People of Malawi’, signed by concerned Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) doctors, came against the background of worsening shortage of medicines and deteriorating standards of health service delivery in public hospitals.
CMST chief executive officer Feston Kaupa confirmed both the drug crisis and that his office is starting a major procurement before the week ends.
He said he anticipates the first consignment to quickly run out due to the backlog, but gave assurance that CMST will continually buy the supplies for the next eight weeks.
Said Kaupa: “As Central Medical Stores Trust, we can assure the nation that we will be having the first deliveries at the end of this week because we are just waiting for approvals to be made by the Office of the Director of Public Procurement.”
Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director Martha Kwataine bemoaned the situation, saying the central hospitals are hit hard because they are offering all three levels of care—primary, secondary and tertiary—contrary to the ideal which is that they provide tertiary/advanced level care.
Said Kwataine: “We have communicated the same to the Parliamentary Committee for Health and some members of the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament.”
Random checks by The Nation in some hospitals across the country this week showed that the drug supply situation is worsening by the day.
In Chitipa, district health officer Dr Fishani Nkhoma said much as Chitipa District Hospital has some essential drugs, it is sitting on a time bomb as they might run out any time. He said the hospital relies much on drugs supplied by donors but said they (the drugs) do not arrive in required quantities.
Nkhoma also lamented that despite the rising costs of expenditure, items such as utility bills, vehicle maintenance and fuel, funds allocated to his hospital have remained static.
Karonga district health officer Dr Michael Kayange said all health centres are stocked with drugs and that the district hospital also received its share on Friday.
Nkhata Bay district health officer Dr Thoko Kaluwa said his hospital is lacking essential drugs such as antibiotics. He, however, said the hospital swaps drugs with its counterparts when it is discovered that there are some required drugs on the list. —(With additional reporting by EDWIN NYIRONGO, News Analyst)