Editor's Comment

All patients need support

WE ARE deeply perturbed by the revelation that the Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) has not been supplied with medicines by the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency for the last three years, a situation which has forced the institution to use its monthly allocation of K1 million to procure drugs for patients.
Medical superintendent Louise Banda disclosed to Minister of Health Jonas Chanda that the institution has an annual budget of K25 million worth of supplies, but because there has been no supply, the institution now depends on its monthly grant of K1 million to procure medicines and other medical supplies. However, this falls short of the required K3 million for monthly supplies and, as a result, many patients are put on the waiting list, while those capable of buying their own drugs do so.
It is a well-known fact that cancer treatment is pricey. In a country where over 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty datum line, very few people can afford cancer treatment.
This is where Government comes in to make treatment accessible through supply of medicines and other medical supplies.
We all know that Government has done very well in the area of infrastructure development, with 439 health posts out of 650 targeted completed and operational. Further, 24 mini-hospitals out of 108 have also been completed. To strengthen the referral health system, Chinsali and Kalindawalo general hospitals as well as the upgraded Levy Mwanawasa University Teaching Hospital have been operationalised.
Government has further done fairly well in the area of furnishing hospitals with modern equipment.
It has also been working to beef up manpower in the health sector through recruitments. Recently, Dr Chanda announced Government’s plan to recruit some more health personnel.
We also know that Government is implementing various policies to ensure that medicines are available and distributed countrywide as quickly as possible.
One way this is done is by opening regional hubs from which medicines are drawn, rather than waiting for the centralised supplier, hitherto Medical Stores.
Decentralisation is significantly helping in speeding up the supply chain. There is, however, need to continue clearing the bottlenecks that continue to hinder availability of all needed medicines and equipment.
There should be no compromise on medical supplies, especially to a critical component of our health care such as the Cancer Diseases Hospital.
Cancer is a killer disease which continues to claim many lives. The absence of medicines can only worsen the situation. Though cancer has claimed many lives, it is curable if detected early and treatment started immediately.
Three years is too long a period for non-supply of medicines because we have patients walking into the health facility on a daily basis to seek medical attention.
What is unsettling about the situation is that the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency does not seem to have a convincing reason for cutting off supply of medicines for this long.
We also do not believe that the agency does not understand its obligations, which are clearly outlined in the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency Act, 2019.
For instance, through the Act, the agency is mandated to:
• procure, store and distribute medicines and medical supplies;
• develop, maintain and manage an efficient and cost-effective system of procurement, storage and distribution of medicines and medical supplies;
• ensure timely availability of medicines and medical supplies in public health facilities;
• establish and maintain strict inventory management systems and security protocols within the agency and other storage facilities; and
• advise the minister on policies relating to the procurement, storage and distribution of medicines and medical supplies.
These are just but some of the functions of the agency as provided for by the Act. From these functions, it is clear that the responsibility to ensure smooth supply of medicines and medical supplies to health facilities lies squarely on the shoulders of the agency.
The agency is also expected to plan ahead and engage Government and other stakeholders in ensuring that health facilities are adequately supplied with drugs.
If funding is insufficient, as virtually all other sectors would say, there should be equitable distribution of whatever finances are available.
Let’s keep giving hope to all

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