By Samuel Kalimira
The Ministry of Health has disclosed that President Lazarus Chakwera has instructed the Treasury to release K12.5 billion to Central Medical Stores Trust (CMST) to be used for purchasing medical drugs for supply to district and central hospitals.
The intervention comes at a time hospitals in the country have for the past four months been experiencing a shortage of essential drugs.
In September this year, up to a third of the country’s district hospitals reported shortages of drugs such as Diazepam, Dental Lignocaine, Dextrose, Salbutamol, Thiopental and insulin syringes used for treatment of patients suffering from low blood pressure, convulsions and asthma attacks. Some of the drugs are used in surgical operations.
Recently, Health Committee of Parliament Chairperson Mathews Ngwale bemoaned that, mid-way through implementation of the nine-month 2021-22 budget, 11 district hospitals were in the red after depleting their drug budget for the year.
According to Ngwale, the precarious drug situation was exposed by a study conducted by the Ministry of Health, which looked at how district hospitals were performing, in terms of drug budget implementation.
By the end of October 2021, each district hospital was supposed to have, on average, spent 44 percent of its drug budget.
But, according to the study, 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 the issue of drug shortage is concerned,” Ngwale said.
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.
Ngwale added that the other remaining 14 districts in the country had spent between 44 percent and 60 percent but were better than the 11 districts.
But, in an attempt to save public hospitals, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda revealed yesterday, when she unveiled a Computed Tomography (CT) machine planted at Mzuzu Central Hospital (MCH)— a structure and machine supported by the Chinese government— that the problem of drug shortage was being addressed.
At the event, MCH Director Frank Sinyiza said CMST only manages to deliver 30 percent of ordered drugs, a development that compromises healthcare service delivery at the facility.
But Kandodo Chiponda said CMST had already started ordering drugs, pledging that the situation would normalise soon.
“We are aware of the problem of shortage of drugs in our hospitals and I am here to announce that our President has instructed the Treasury to release K12.5 billion for the drugs. Let me assure you that, very soon, our hospitals will have essential drugs and medical equipment,” she said.
The Health Minister applauded the Chinese government for supporting Malawi with the machine, saying MCH has never had such a machine since it was opened in 2010.
Sinyiza, on his part, said the facility was spending around K1.5 million every month referring patients to Kamuzu Central Hospital to access services offered by CT machine operators.
The CT machine scans brain damages, internal bleeding and fractures.
China government representative Lin Jiakai attributed the Asian country’s support to the country to cordial relations between the countries.