Kadoma — The National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) has been instructed to buy medical drugs directly from suppliers, rather than from middlemen jostling for tenders to supply Government with drugs at inflated prices.
Zimbabwean drug prices in both public and private sector are considered high by regional standards, with many on chronic medication, and so able to buy in advance, making savings by taking prescriptions to South Africa and Malawi and still saving money even when bus fares were factored in.
Large-scale local production of many essential drugs is expected to resume or start soon, with plans to saturate the local market before eventually exporting.
This was said by Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro last Friday in an interview after officially launching the volunteer health worker engagement for Covid-19 in Kadoma, on behalf of Health Minister Vice President Constantine Chiwenga.
Dr Mangwiro said the decision to wield the axe on middlemen was taken after realising that they were ripping off the Government, and, more importantly, making life difficult for citizens in dire need of drugs.
“Drugs are very expensive because we have plenty of middlemen — third parties, fourth parties — who have been buying drugs for Government, making them expensive,” he said.
“Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe buy drugs from India and China, but in Botswana, drugs are bought by the government. So we have already instructed NatPharm to buy direct from manufacturers; no more middlemen.
“Middlemen were jostling for tenders. How can you have a tender so that you sell to Government drugs of that magnitude?”
Dr Mangwiro said if middlemen want drugs, they will get them from NatPharm, not vice versa.
Dr Mangwiro said the situation was so bad that even if someone travelled to Botswana, spent a night in a hotel and bought the medication, the price remained lower than local prices.
Meanwhile, VP Chiwenga said it was critical to strengthen the national preventive and response efforts at “home, health facilities, in public and social spaces” in the absence of a cure or safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19.
Zimbabwe hugely appreciates the support from the African Union through the Centres for Disease Prevention and Control. The Africa CDC is a specialised technical institution of the AU that is supporting the deployment of volunteer community health workers.
Government plans to have up to 1 000 volunteer community health workers, to deepen the fight against Covid-19.
Already, up to 700 volunteers have been trained and deployed, covering all 10 provinces.
The first 200 community health workers were trained in July and a request for more volunteers was filed with Government and immediately granted.
The volunteers programme came after the launch of the Partnership to Accelerate Covid-19 Testing in Africa (Pact) in June this year by the Africa CDC. The initiative focuses on testing, tracing and treatment of Covid-19.
Said VP Chiwenga: “This initiative is indeed in tandem with our national response plan and our endeavours to engage all sectors within the context of the Government and society approach ushered in by His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa when he declared the pandemic a national disaster.
“We will therefore leave no one behind. We will redouble our efforts and scale up our Covid-19 testing, train the required numbers of health care workers to support Covid-19 response, train and deploy the 1 000 volunteer community health workers and ensure adequacy of laboratory and medical supplies for an effective and comprehensive approach to curb Covid-19 in our country.”
Apart from being trained, the community health workers have been linked with their local health and rapid response teams for swift action in the case of any alerts.
The local volunteer health worker programme seeks to identify key religious, traditional, cultural groups and their leadership with a view to use their structures to disseminate Covid-19 behaviour change information and strategies for better compliance.
It also sought to get consensus on the best approach for continuous engagement on the various ways Covid-19 may negatively impact various communities and the mitigation strategies, among others.
VP Chiwenga said the community engagement programme will strengthen Zimbabwe’s primary health care approach towards universal coverage and building a resilient and strengthened health system.
A number of African countries have adopted the use of community health workers to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Volunteers have previously been used in the fight against HIV.
In West and Central Africa, community health workers were also used to fight Ebola.
A number of the newly trained volunteers said they were ready to hit the ground running to help reduce cases, which are presently on the rise.
Last Thursday, 65 new cases were recorded together with four deaths, signalling that the disease is far from being overcome, with five more people dying on Monday while 88 new cases were recorded.