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Shortage of anti-epileptic drugs hits hospitals

A few days after Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha delivered a maiden 2019/20 National Budget in which K25.9 billion has been set aside for procurement of drugs in public hospitals, Malawi’s National Epilepsy Association has said some hospitals have been hit by a shortage of anti-epileptic drugs.

The association’s president Francina Gondwe said some of the hospitals that do not have the drug—Phenobarbitone—are Kamuzu Central, Bwaila, Nkhata Bay District, Queen Elizabeth Central (Qech) and Machinga among others.

But Ministry of Health spokesperson Joshua Malango said the drug in question, Phenobarbitone, is being replaced with newer anti-epileptic drugs.

Gondwe said hospitals such as Bwaila have stayed for close to a year and Qech close to two weeks without the essential drug.

“The challenge is that everybody has his or her own type of medication but Phenobarb is the commonly used. For example, I started using the medicine from 1999 and I cannot just change. So, it is really sad that when you go to a hospital, you find that the drugs are not there. It is either you are introduced to new drugs which to others just increase the number of seizures or one is forced to buy from pharmacies.

“For Instance, in Nkhata Bay, one of our members went to the hospital and was given another type of medicine because Phenobarb is out of stock. She is currently hospitalised because the medicine could not work well with her,” she said.

Gondwe said other anti-epileptic drugs which are also out of stock but are useful include Ritalin, Haldol Decanoate, Citalopram and Thiamine.

Malango, however, said there are other types of anti-epileptic drugs available in the hospitals.

“We have anti-epileptic drugs available. Phenobarbitone is not the only anti-epileptic drug to be used. It is being replaced with newer anti-epileptic drugs such as sodium valproate, carbamazepine, phenytoin etc. Absence of it does not mean patients are not being given ante-pileptic drugs,” he said.

However, the association’s president said they were not communicated to that Phenobarbitone, which they consider as one of the effective drugs, is being phased out.

Epilepsy is the most common serious chronic brain disorder in the world and about three percent of Malawi’s 18 million people has epilepsy.

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