EDITORIAL COMMENT: RBZ should address forex challenges for pharmacies

RBZ

Reports that some pharmacies across the country have increased drug prices by up to 70 percent is very disturbing. What is even more frightening is that some pharmacies are demanding payment in United States dollars. According to the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) most pharmacies have increased the prices of drugs by between 30 and 70 percent over the past three weeks.

Some pharmacies are charging huge shortfalls while some are insisting on cash payments in US$. The other pharmacies are rejecting Medical Aid cards and are also refusing bond notes as well as payment through swipe or Ecocash.  The AHFoZ said as part of efforts to address the plight of patients who are suffering as a result of the latest move by pharmacies, it has engaged the Retail Pharmacies’ Association to try and resolve the problem.

It said it had also advised medical aid societies to approach individual pharmacies to negotiate contracts for their members in order to alleviate the plight of patients. The AHFoZ said the hiking of prices of drugs and demanding cash payment in US dollar or even bond notes can only worsen the suffering of patients. The country is facing serious cash shortages and workers’ salaries have not been increased for a very long time now.

The workers who were already struggling to meet the health needs of their families, cannot afford the new prices of drugs. The AHFoZ said the issue of drug price increases should be addressed urgently because it is impacting negatively on patients’ recovery. On its part, AHFoZ said following deliberations with the RPA, it has since engaged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe so that pharmacies could be allocated foreign currency to import drugs.

Some pharmacies are obviously using other avenues to source foreign currency such as buying the US$ on the black market or forcing patients to pay for drugs in US dollar. Government has condemned recent price hikes saying they are unjustified. We however feel that it is time culprits are punished for causing distortions in the economy by profiteering through unjustified price increases.

Increases of up to 70 percent effected by pharmacies show the profiteering madness that has gripped our business community and something must be done urgently to stop this madness.  We have already stated that workers have gone for years without salary increases and how are they expected to survive with their families in such an economic environment where the business community has no ethics?

Government should come up with punitive measures in order to rein in these errant businesses. The RBZ on its part should prioritise allocation of foreign currency to pharmacies in order to enable them to import drugs. When pharmacies resort to buying foreign currency on the black market, they will be forced to hike prices in order to pass on the burden to patients.

We want at this juncture to appeal to pharmacies to be sensitive to the plight of their patients who have supported them over the years. They should revert to old prices while the issue of forex is being addressed by the RBZ.

The pharmacies like other stakeholders in the health sector, have an obligation to ensure that health services remain accessible to the majority of people.

Article Source: The Chronicle