Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga has said Malawi Government will recapitalise the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) to make it the sole supplier of drugs and medical supplies to all public hospitals across the country.
Lipenga announced this in Parliament in Lilongwe on Friday when he presented the 2012/13 Mid-Term Budget Review Statement.
He said: “In the 2013/14 financial year, we plan to allocate an additional K3.2 billion [about $8.9 million] recapitalisation of Central Medical Stores [Trust].”
The minister’s statement comes against the background of an acute shortage of drugs that has gripped the country’s public hospitals, especially district and referral hospitals, which have run out of 95 percent of essential drugs, according to Minister of Health Catherine Gotani-Hara.
Lipenga has since attributed the continued shortage of drugs to “weak legislation” and lack of a mechanism for dealing with the culprits caught in the malpractices.
He said at present, CMST has K3.6 billion (or $10 million) in stock.
Lipenga said Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) will directly buy and airlift drugs valued at $27 million (K95 billion) for the country’s four major referral hospitals—Queen Elizabeth Central in Blantyre, Kamuzu Central in Lilongwe, Mzuzu Central and Zomba Central.
He said the programmed resources for CMST will be used to procure sufficient drugs and medical supplies for all referral, district hospitals and health centres over the next 18 months.
Lipenga said the trust is now autonomous and there is consultancy support to strengthen capacity in drug supply chain management.
He said under planned reforms to the trust, hospitals will submit their requirements to CMST and once delivered, payments to the trust will be done centrally either by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Finance within the allocations of hospitals.
“In this case, we will ensure the integrity of the supply chain, prevent purchases from vendors and the accumulation of arrears and improve the quality of health care in the country,” said the minister.
Commenting on the prevailing drug shortage, Lipenga said, currently, there are weaknesses in police investigation and prosecution processes.
He said few cases result in convictions adding that when a suspect has been found guilty, the penalties are too lenient to act as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
Lipenga said in January 2013, his ministry provided K876 million (about $2.4 million) to clear arrears for the central hospitals while the National Local Government Finance Committee was given K300 million (about $833 333) to clear arrears at districts hospitals.
In an interview on Friday, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) executive director Martha Kwataine dismissed Lipenga’s assertion that the justice delivery system is to blame in the current drug shortages by meting out lenient sentences.
She said the problem is bigger and usually involves many people, including government officials.
Kwataine called for a revamp of the health system which she says is unsustainable “and subsidises the rich”.