By Chisomo Phiri
Health facilities in Malawi are facing an acute shortage of essential medicines, putting many poor and marginalized groups such as women and children at risk of dying from curable diseases.
This is according to a recent study conducted by the Universal Health Coverage Coalition (UHCC).
It shows that there is acute shortage of essential medicines across the sampled districts of Nsanje, Mchinji, Chikwawa, Mzimba South, Mzimba North, Lilongwe, Dedza, Neno, Karonga, Mangochi and Dowa. The study further shows that the stockouts of essential medicines for non-communicable diseases such as High Blood Pressure is also worrisome in the country.
In Balaka district, a UHCC member, Development Communication Trust (DCT) traced access to medicines at Chiyendausiku Health Centre and established acute stock outs of hypertension and diabetes drugs. In addition, DCT found that stock cards were irregular and not updated as required by 2003 National Health Commodities and logistics manual.
At the same facility of Chiyendausiku, the UHCC found that 4000 Glibenclamide were not utilized and cannot be traced after February as the stock at the hand slows only 1000 tablets in April,2021, a worrying trend that may encourage drug pilferage.
In Mchinji district, at Mkanda Health Centre, the coalition discovered that a pharmacy technician was caught red-handed breaking into a drug store at night to steal drugs, he was arrested, charged and sentenced. Prior to the Universal Health Coverage Coalition’s study, Mkanda Health Centre and other facilities in Mchinji were facing stock outs of essential medicines.
It is estimated that Malawi loses about 30% of the national drug budget to pilferage. The study also found that drug pilferage can occur during transportation from the supplier or manufactures to the national warehouse such as Central Medical Stores.
In the study, the UHCC wanted to understand perceptions in terms of drug supply. During the study, 57% of respondents saying Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) is ineffective and 29% lament incessant stock outs of essential drugs to be a key challenge with the trust.
In his comment, health activist and National Community Health Champion for Malawi Maziko Matemba agreed with the study results saying the issue of stockouts of essential medicines in the facilities has been one of the setbacks to health care delivery for many years.
He said Central Medical Stores does not have enough capital or funds for them to satisfy the requirements to purchase all the needed or essential medicines on time as it is required.
“Government need to look for innovative financing of essential medicines that is already in the national health budget which is at 9.4 percent of the national budget which is far below the Abuja declaration of 15%”
” Ironically, Malawi has other drugs that do not run out, for example those supported by the development partners such as Global Fund, Gavi and other UN agencies which I believe time has come now for government to learn from how those medicines are financed in finding last solution to stock outs,” said Matemba.