Drug shortage sparks health fears

Those who thought they had taken a weight-loss supplement ate more than the others.

Those who thought they had taken a weight-loss supplement ate more than the others.

Published Jul 6, 2013



Tshwane clinics and other public health institutions have been hit hard by drug shortages in recent weeks, which have led to patients being turned away empty-handed and disappointed.

Medical Supplies, a state depot in Auckland Park, has failed to deliver drugs in Pretoria and other parts of the province for a few weeks.

The situation is ”a crisis requiring urgent attention”, stakeholders said yesterday.

The health of millions who relied on public health for treatment is at risk, they said, adding that drug resistance, side-effects and death would result.

“We treat people with life-threatening and chronic illnesses from our clinic, and they cannot cope without their medication,” a nursing sister in Ga-Rankuwa said yesterday.

Ga-Rankuwa is among areas in the city that have not had medication delivered in more than a month.

“Our stocks have been dwindling for weeks now, and they hit rock-bottom last week,” said the nurse, who asked not to be named.

Patients on ARVs and on medication for tuberculosis were of major concern.

“They are all losers because they cannot afford to buy drugs from pharmacies.”

Yesterday, the office of provincial spokesman Simon Zwane failed to explain the magnitude of the drug shortages in the province, and failed to confirm whether there were any interventions in place.

Government was blamed for failing to pay its bills, with some saying the government expected service providers to continue delivering supplies even when payments were lagging.

Private public health consultant Lungelo Sigubu said the government expected loyalty from service providers based on the urgent need to provide patients with services. “They are blackmailed over bad decisions they have nothing to do with.”

They are people with businesses to run, she added. The failure to deliver drugs was also counterproductive to the country’s efforts to fight diseases such as HIV/Aids, said the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa).

The nursing organisation said the effects of not taking medication went beyond helping the body ward off disease and infection.

“There is then the possibility that the body system may develop resistance,” spokesman Sibongiseni Delihlazo said.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) reiterated this, and said patients on ARVs formed resistance to drugs. “The drugs also become poison when they are reintroduced to their systems,” TAC provincial spokesman Andrew Mosane said.

He said numerous meetings with officials from the Department of Health had proved futile.

“We recently had a sit-in in the MEC’s (Hope Papo) office. We have met the MEC and the provincial chief of staff, and have voiced our concerns on the drug shortage issue many times.”

A letter to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the director responsible for sectors including HIV had gone unanswered.

“We are at a point where we realise that no matter how much we complain, demonstrate and talk, there will be no change.”

Will Tsheole, from the Ga-Rankuwa offices of the Thabo Mwale TB Foundation, said defaulting on TB medication formed the multidrug-resistant strain, which was harder to treat.

“We are fighting hard to ensure compliance among patients. For government to ‘impose’ it on our patients is taking us 1 000 steps back.”

Tsheole questioned the absence of “holding bays”, which he said were back-up depots for drugs within regions. “These made sure there were always drugs in instances like these, and would come in handy at such time.”

Hospitals in the province have also been hit by linen, food and toiletry shortages in recent days. - Pretoria News

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