Chemo drug shortage halts treatment

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Johannesburg -

A shortage of key chemotherapy drugs at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital has halted treatment for certain cancer patients, a Gauteng official said on Wednesday.

“The company that supplies the drug ran out of stock to supply the hospital,” health spokesman Simon Zwane said.

“They have, however, indicated that they have received some consignment and it is still undergoing quality testing before being released to the hospital. The drug is expected this week.”

He said the shortage was not because the supplier had not been paid, but was related to a stock shortage from the supplier's side.

Zwane said the department had worked hard to improve availability of essential drugs and had implemented interventions aimed at “improving efficiencies” at the medical supplies depot.

He said these interventions included monitoring supplier performance, and continuous review of re-order levels.

“As a result of these interventions, (there has been) a notable change in the availability of medicines from the 76 percent reported in April last year to more than 82 percent in January this year,” Zwane said.

The Democratic Alliance said patients who needed to be treated with Gemzar had been told the drug was not available.

“Gemzar is a chemotherapy drug used to treat non-small cell lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, metastatic breast cancer, and ovarian cancer,” the party's Gauteng health spokesman Jack Bloom said in a statement.

“This chemo drug shortage is totally unacceptable as it is endangering the lives of vulnerable patients.”

He said in one case a breast cancer patient's chemotherapy was halted in the middle of a multi-week treatment, which was extremely dangerous.

Bloom said swift action was needed to procure drugs and answers were needed about medicine shortages in provincial hospitals. - Sapa

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