Shortage of meds for psychiatric patients in Gauteng
Johannesburg - Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku this week revealed that over the past year, the province has been experiencing a shortage of nine drugs due to manufacturing constraints and tender issues.
The medicines in short supply include three antidepressants (Fluoxetine, Amitriptyline, Citalopram), three antipsychotics (Chlorpromazine, Olanzapine, Risperidone) and two epilepsy (Carbamazepine, Clonazeparn) treatments.
According to Masuku, although the items were out of stock, “the suppliers were delivering limited quantities which were evenly distributed to the facilities. Patients were given limited quantities so that they do not go home without medication. Where there are alternatives, patients were given the alternative medication. The impact on the treatment of patients was minimal,” said Masuku.
However, experts disagree with Masuku’s assertion.
Professor Bernard van Rensburg, acting head of the department of psychiatry at Wits University said: “Any interruption of the taking of prescribed medication such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and anticonvulsants is never ideal and may result in relapse and recurrence of symptoms due to the lowered levels of these medications in the bloodstream.’
“Although it can be expected that symptoms may recur if medication is interrupted, it is however not possible to predict how soon such relapse symptoms may occur after discontinuation of medication, as people’s metabolism and response to medication dosage differ.”
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) was at the forefront in opposition of the removal of mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni to unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs where 144 patients died due to lack of medication and poor living conditions. The organisation’s operations director, Cassey Chambers, said drug shortages affect all patients with a mental illness.
“It is something that we work on regularly to create awareness and assist patients who are affected. We have raised our concerns to the national Department for Health too. When patients try to get their medication and are notified that there are no meds, or that they are switching to another available med, we do help them with steps on finding another facility/clinic/hospital that does have stock, we try to do as much as possible to ensure that patients on chronic meds are not just sent home with no meds,” she said.
“Patients who don’t get chronic meds could have serious consequences such as relapse and side effects, which could lead to serious issues that may need acute treatment like hospitalisation.”
Masutane Modjadji, information and awareness project leader at SA Federation for Mental Health Patients said mental disorders need correct psychiatric medication for recovery and management. She said medication shortages in clinics and hospitals can result in the deterioration in mental health patients.
Modjadji added that the fear of relapsing harms the mental well-being of patients as relapsing reverses the gains of stability achieved through being on treatment over some time.
The DA’s Jack Bloom said: “It is unfortunate that Gauteng is dependent on national health tenders for psychiatric drugs as they are often badly handled. The Gauteng Health Department needs to be more nimble in finding alternative suppliers to ensure that there is always a full range of drugs for vulnerable psychiatric patients.”