HARARE – Zimbabwe's collapsing public health sector was yesterday hit with another dose of bad news after it was revealed the country’s major hospitals are only left with two weeks’ supply of a major drug used during surgical operations.
The unsettling news comes as President Robert Mugabe’s misfiring government has allocated a measly budget allocation to health services sector despite the humongous and worsening problems it is facing.
In his budget presentation in December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa reduced the vote for health from $330, 7 million to a disappointing $282 million — a figure that falls way short of meeting the big demands of the public health services sector.
Parirenyatwa hospital chief pharmacist Davison Vuragu has warned that the country is left with two weeks’ stock of atracurium — a major anaesthetic drug used in addition to other drugs for muscle relaxation during surgery — after the relocation of drug supplier, GSK which pulled out of the Zimbabwean market last year.
“The country’s hospitals have been hit by a shortage of atracurium injection following the pulling out of GSK from the Zimbabwean market.
“The GSK atracurium is the only one that is registered in the country and since Zimbabwean wholesalers could not import into the country, the stocks that were available have been exhausted.
“As Parirenyatwa hospital we are left with less than two weeks of stock.
“This means that we have a disaster on our hands as the drug is one of the major anaesthetic medicines that are used in surgery.
“Alternative molecules like cis-atracurium, vercuronium and rocuronium are also not available in the country and they are not registered,” said Vuragu in a letter written to new drugs’ supplier, Aspen.
Vuragu also noted that since Aspen had taken over the stocking of atracurium and cis-atracurium, they should urgently import the product to avert a disaster.
“Parirenyatwa hospital is the biggest referral centre in the country providing the greatest number of specialist surgical services.
“We therefore cannot afford to reduce our surgical operations which will have to be done if we do not receive more stock of atracurium injection soon.
“As the situation stands, not only Parirenyatwa hospital is affected but all major public and private hospitals,” further warned Vuragu.
Parirenyatwa, Harare hospital and Avenues clinic had sought alternative sources through local wholesalers but were experiencing problems with local banks said Vuragu.
As Zimbabwe’s political and economic rot has escalated over the past five years, the health sector has experienced myriad problems which include poor funding and severe shortages of drugs.
Last year, the country’s major referral hospitals had to suspend many services as a result of the shortage of drugs, including painkillers — exposing how much things have fallen apart in the country since the early 2000s.
United Bulawayo Hospitals and Harare Central Hospital were among the major health facilities that had to suspend normal services as a result of drug shortages, including pethidine — a synthetic compound used as a painkiller, especially for women in labour and during Caesarean operations.
And in November, Binga District Hospital, which is situated in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest regions, was forced to scale back its services as a result of water and electricity shortages.