Thousands of patients with chronic conditions, including those who have cancer, do not have their lifesaving drugs because of a shortage in the Western Cape.
Essential medicines reportedly out of stock include insulin, which is used to treat diabetes, steroids to treat inflammatory conditions and certain chemotherapy drugs.
Helene Rossouw, spokeswoman for Health MEC Theuns Botha, confirmed that the department was experiencing “stock-outs” of chronic medication, but denied that this included certain cancer drugs.
Rossouw said the shortages originated at the national level as a result of tenders not being awarded and suppliers not being able to source drug stock for SA.
She denied that Groote Schuur Hospital and Tygerberg were experiencing shortages of oncology drugs.
But the Campaigning 4 Cancer organisation said there were indeed “stock-outs” of cancer drugs.
Chief executive Lauren Pretorius said her organisation had learnt from reliable sources that there were serious shortages at Tygerberg Hospital.
She criticised the department for the latest shortages, saying any shortage of cancer medication could have devastating effects for patients.
“Every day you delay cancer treatment the outcome is worsened and a patient could be one step closer to dying. For some of the cancer patients getting these medicines is a life-or-death situation and you can’t gamble with their lives like that. The department needs to explain the latest shortages,” Pretorius said.
Rossouw said unavailable drugs included insulin actraphane pen sets, beamethasone, methylpredinisolone and hydrocortisone tablets and vitamin D. But she added that alternative medication was provided in all those cases.
“In the Western Cape, in the cases where we foresee a problem, our stock managers put alternative measures in place to solve the problem,” Rossouw said.
The latest shortage has caused an outcry, with organisations calling on Botha to explain the situation.
Damaris Kiewiets, chairwoman of the Cape Metro Health Forum, labelled the shortage an infringement of patient rights.
“Once again we are having a shortage of chronic medicines hardly two years after Theuns Botha promised not to have the shortages repeated ever again.
“Once again people’s lives are put at risk,” Kiewiets said.
Mogamat Satarien, of Manenberg, is one of the patients affected.
Satarien, who is in remission after a brain tumour was removed six years ago, said he had experienced several drug shortages this year.
On Wednesday he went home without getting his hydrocortisone tablets after he was told that it was out of stock.
While Satarien received his Euthyrox tablets on Wednesday,the hormone replacement drug was not available two months ago when it went out of stock.
“The stock-outs have been going on for some time now. If it’s not this drug it’s the other drug. Two months ago I had to buy this drug (Euthyrox) from the pharmacy after I was told that it’s out of stock. Now I have to go without the steroid tablets. The pharmacist told me to buy it from the pharmacy again,” Satarien said.
“My big worry is the impact this will have on my health. If I have to go without these essential medicines for some time, will that not reverse my health condition?”
The latest shortage comes exactly two years after the department experienced major stock-outs of chronic medication.
In July 2010, the Cape Argus revealed how thousands of patients suffering from asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure had to go without their potentially lifesaving medicines as result of major supply problems in the public health sector.
The department said it was because of volcano ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull, which restricted air traffic and caused delays in delivery of medicines from abroad, including China and India.
More recently the problems with the supply of chronic medication have involved distribution to clinics.
UTi Pharma is the supplier to the centralised Chronic Dispensing Unit.
The provincial Health Department said it was concerned about delays in the delivery and shortages of medicine.
These glitches have resulted in long queues and some patients being turned away.