Each day, scores of patients are returned without receiving their prescribed medication from central hospitals, including the country’s major referral Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH, as some essential drugs and medical supplies are not in stock.
A seemingly sick and tired old lady who identified herself as Belita Bazilio approached the pharmacy counter at QECH recently and presented her health passport book in anticipation to get the medication to keep her life afloat.
But the pharmacist had bad news for her: “Amenewa tilibe, kaguleni kumafamase enawa, siwodula, ngakhale K1 000 sinadutse, [we don’t have this medication in stock—go and buy from private pharmacies. It costs less than K1 000.”
Unknown to the pharmacist, the woman had walked all the way from Ndirande Township to the hospital—about four kilometres—because she had no money to pay for her minibus fare.
She wobbly walked away from the counter and, with her face covered in her palms, sat down on one of the hospital’s cement benches, lost in thought and not knowing what to do next.
It was later established by Nation On Sunday that the medication she wanted, and was out of stock, was for hypertension. A Good Samaritan luckily offered her K2 000 to buy the medication elsewhere, and to cater for her transport back home.
At the same hospital on the same day, another man returned home without receiving his diabetes jab because the hospital did not have syringes in stock.
These are daily experiences that underprivileged citizens encounter daily in public hospitals nationwide.
In an interview, Mzuzu Central Hospital director Frank Sinyiza said while government is committed to making full payment of monthly other recurrent transactions (ORT) of K91 million to his hospital, including monthly building maintenance of K16 million and the annual budget for drugs and medical supplies pegged at K1.7 billion, which was fully paid, their challenge remains procurement of the drugs.
He said there are drugs and medical kits that are not readily available at the Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST), which compromises the supply chain.
Said Sinyiza: “It is high time CMST got capitalised. I cannot speak for them—but this is the problem we see.
“In situations where we are to procure from elsewhere other than CMST—there are always these stringent and time-consuming procurement procedures we are expected to follow and this disrupts the supply chain.”
Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe has not been spared the drug and medical kit shortages. Dozens of patients return home unassisted.
KCH director Jonathan Ngoma, while acknowledging receipt of a questionnaire on shortage of essential drugs and lack of bedding, said he does not comment on such inquiries from the media.
On his part, QECH director Samson Mndolo did not respond to a questionnaire sent to him on May 26 2021 despite acknowledging receipt and reminders.
CMST has failed to respond to a questionnaire sent to its spokesperson Herbert Chandilanga on June 3 2021 despite several assurances. The questionnaire sought to seek the situation as regards to the drug and medical kit stocking, the contributing factor to the challenges, among others.
But Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Charles Mwansambo said in an interview that Treasury has committed to give CMST K10 billion out of the K35 billion which the Trust asked as a single injection to restock.
About seven years ago, CMST embarked on a capitilisation project.
The Trust was implementing the ideal system in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) specifications in terms of temperature regulation and general sanitation.
With support from developmental partners and implemented by Unicef, government embarked on a long-term process to reform and strengthen the CMST by identifying a third party to supply the essential medicines kits and other essential supplies, but it is yet to be established how far the capitalisation went.