Cape Town - Patients with chronic conditions are said to be beating the province’s medicine shortage by borrowing drugs from each other, putting their lives in danger.
Stock shortages at state medical facilities include the anti-diabetic medication Mertformin, Lorsatan tablets for high blood pressure and Tramadol for severe pain.
Damaris Kiewiets, chairwoman of the Cape Metro Health Forum, said she had received complaints about drug shortages at several health facilities, including hospitals such as Tygerberg and Groote Schuur.
She said some clinics were rationing medicines that were in short supply, while in some cases patients had to buy them from private pharmacies or borrow from each other.
“It’s a huge problem… if it’s not this drug it’s another. Sometimes patients get given 10 tablets and are told to come back to the clinic in a few days. But going to the clinic every now and again is not practical for many, and they end up defaulting. We all know the dangers of defaulting on chronic medication.”
Department of Health spokesman Mark van der Heever confirmed that the province was short of Lorsatan and Tramadol, but denied having a shortage of anti-diabetic drugs.
Supplies of Losartan had been received and distributed last week, he said.
Kiewiets said the shortages contradicted the province’s boast of “pushing for wellness”.
“It is sad that a province that claims to be the best-run region in the country must experience medicine shortages. How will they achieve this wellness if we have unending interruptions in medicine supply?”
Igsak Kamaar, chairman of the Klipfontein sub-district health forum, said he was aware of patients “helping each other” with medicine.
“What choice do they have if clinics keep on having shortages? It’s not an ideal practice because they, too, end up running short of medication, but that’s what they have to do to survive.”
Cape Town GP Solly Lison said sharing medication could endanger lives.
“It’s problematic because even though the medicine may have the same name, the strengths can be different,” he said.
“Dosage is critical, particularly for patients with chronic conditions, as an under-dose or over-dose can result in poor management of the disease and sometimes lead to adverse reactions such as coma or confusion.”
Campaigning 4 Cancer has also raised concerns about the unavailability of newer cancer drugs in the Western Cape despite their being widely available in other provinces.
Chief executive Lauren Pretorius said despite drugs such as Herceptin – used to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer, HER2+ and Gleevec, used to treat leukaemia and lymph cancers – being recommended by the World Health Organisation, they were not on the province’s essential drug list. However, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and North West supplied them.
Pretorius said if doctors wanted to prescribe these drugs they had to “go through long bureaucratic processes”, such as writing motivational letters to the head of department.
“This deficiency means that multitudes of patients with these cancers end up dying unnecessarily. It’s a huge concern for the Western Cape.”
Van der Heever said the two cancer drugs, which were “extremely costly”, were being reviewed by the national essential medicine committee, and “the outcome of their decision will determine whether these agents will be coded for use in the Western Cape”.