Pharmacies warned over escalating drug prices

Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Government has warned that pharmacies overcharging clients or selling medicines in United States dollars risk losing their operating licences. Unscrupulous pharmacies are overcharging customers through pegging prices on prevailing parallel market rates of the local currency to the US dollar. This has led to decline in uptake of medicines, raising fears that some patients could be defaulting, which may complicate their medical conditions.

Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said Government would soon be checking for compliance to pricing of medicines across all pharmacies.

“We are going to be checking on all private pharmacies to ensure that they are all adhering to the approved prices.

“We do not want a situation where people are overcharged, where there is a continuous hiking of prices of drugs and at the same time we also want to advice retailers that they should not charge in foreign currency.

“We have heard that there are some who are still charging in foreign currency, that has to stop immediately. The law says we pay in Zimbabwean dollars and that is what we have to adhere to. All those who are charging in US dollars are doing an illegal act and we will not hesitate to withdraw licences of those who continue to do unlawful acts,” said Dr Moyo.

Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mrs Shylet Sanyanga said the pharmaceutical industry continues to charge medicines in United States dollars with those accepting RTGS converting it at very high rates, resulting in many patients failing to access essential medicines.

A snap survey by The Herald in Harare yesterday showed that some patients had resorted to buying their medicines from neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Zambia where the prices are relatively cheaper.

Some traders who cross the borders frequently are even bringing over the counter medicines such as cough syrups and pain killers into the country to sell them on the informal market.

In addition, some foreign-based individuals are using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to link with Zimbabwean patients and sell them pharmaceuticals from abroad, mainly South Africa and United Kingdom, at much cheaper prices.

This combined trend is likely to see an increase in expirations of pharmaceutical products due to low consumption, raising other fears that some providers might end up selling expired medicines at cheaper prices to unsuspecting patients.

A local pharmacist who spoke on condition of anonymity said most patients are now buying short-term supplies instead of the whole prescribed course.

“Patients are buying supplies for just a few days to a week. Some are even forgoing medicines like pain killers and cough mixtures to save money and only purchase antibiotics when they have infections,” he said.

However, Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) president Mr Portifa Mwendera attributed the decline of medicine uptake to failure by medical aid societies to match the current cost of medicines.

“We have noticed that the consumption of pharmaceutical services has declined significantly over the last quarter mainly due to affordability issues.

“The healthcare funders have failed to match the increase in healthcare costs, particularly the price of medicines ,and their reimbursement rates are very low rates leading to increased shortfalls and out of pocket settlements for medicines,” he said.

Pharmaceutical Wholesalers’ Association chairman Mr Kudakwashe Chapfika said economic challenges had contributed to reduced spending at retail level.

“Consumer spending at retail level has reduced markedly due to the worsening economic situation and revenues have tumbled, thereby affecting the whole pharmaceutical value chain with reduced uptake of pharmaceutical products,” said Mr Chapfika.

Government is working flat out to make available affordable medicines in public health institutions.

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