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11 hospitals in red on drugs

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By Taonga Sabola  

Mid-way through implementation of nine-month 2021- 22 National Budget, 11 of the country’s district hospitals are already in the red as they have significantly depleted their drug budget for the year, Health Committee of Parliament Chairperson Matthews Ngwale has said.

According to Ngwale, the precarious drug situation was exposed by a study conducted by the Ministry of Health, which looked at how district hospitals are performing in terms of drug budget implementation.

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By the end of October 2021, each district hospital was supposed to have, on average, spent 44 percent of their drug budgets.

But, according to Ngwale, by the end of October 2021, only three district hospitals— namely, Nsanje at 44 percent, Ntchisi at 43 percent and Nkhata Bay at 42 percent— had managed to adhere to the requirement.

“More worrisome are 11 districts which have spent their drug budget significantly above expected. The districts are in dire need of attention and are in a state of emergency. We may as well declare the districts as emergencies or disaster districts as far as drug shortage is concerned,” Ngwale said.

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Topping the list of districts that have heavily drawn down their health budgets is Lilongwe, which has exhausted about 80 percent of its drug budget, followed by Kasungu at 76 percent and Likoma Island at 74 percent.

Nkhotakota and Salima are tied at 72 percent followed by Neno at 68 percent and Dedza and Mchinji at 63 percent.

The other districts in red are Ntcheu at 62 percent, Chiradzulu at 61 percent and Blantyre at 60 percent.

“I hope the Minister of Finance can regard this crisis as an opportunity to see the need to increase levels of funds to the Ministry of Health, which is grossly underfunded,” Ngwale said.

Responding to the concerns, Deputy Minister of Health Chrissie Kalamula Kanyasho said the government was aware of the drug shortage situation in the country, describing it as a procurement issue.

Kanyasho told Parliament that her ministry was “on top of things” and that the government would make available drugs to Malawians, no matter what situation.

Health rights activist Maziko Matemba faulted the people who do estimates for drug consumption in most district hospitals, saying most of them are not pharmacists but administrators.

This, according to Matemba, has resulted in district hospitals coming with wrong estimates and, as a result, their budgets do not carry them through to the end of the year.

He said the government should endeavour to have pharmacists in key positions at district level, who could be in a position to make right estimates on the quantity of drugs needed as well as combinations.

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