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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Tanzania: Govt Accused of Downplaying 'Crisis'

By Louis Kolumbia

Dar es Salaam — A public health advocacy entity, Sikika, has warned the government against what it describes as downplaying the seriousness of essential drugs shortage, if the country is to avoid a public health disaster.

Mr Irenei Kiria, director of Sikika, told reporters yesterday that despite government officials' denial of the shortages, the supply of essential medicine was pathetic and the country is facing a Sh469-billion budget deficit for medicines and medical equipment purchases in the financial year 2016/17.

Sikika, which says it is adequately equipped to track medical supplies in public hospitals in a real time basis, raised the red flag a week ago over the shortage of essential medicines in public hospitals.

The organisation's alert was based on data from both the ministry for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children as well as the Medical Stores Department (MSD), which indicated problems with both release of funds and availability of drugs in the country.

By September 16, for example, the MSD website displayed zero stock of 47 per cent of all medical items as per their medicine catalogue. The trend of availability of sampled medicines and medical supplies further shows that the country is running out of delivery kits (midwife kits), Oxytocin Injections, Amoxicillin Granules, diarrhoea treatment kit (oral rehydration salts 'ORS' and zinc) and Atenolol tablets in its stocks.
One of the reasons for the shortages, according to Sikika, is the failure of the government to consistently commit sufficient financial resources to meet the country's medical supplies requirement.

More worrying is the fact that the total budgetary requirements for essential health commodities for the 2016/17 financial year are estimated at Sh577 billion but the government allocated only about Sh251 billion for the 2016/17 financial year, out of which Sh108 billion would go to pay previous debts owed to MSD.

In the first quarter of (July-September) the government released only Sh20 billion instead of Sh62.5 billion for medical supplies. These facts notwithstanding, senior officials from both the ministry and the MSD went ahead last week to deny the existence of serious shortage.

"Considering that the information about the shortage was obtained from the MSD's own website, one would have expected an honest and technical response... to enable the President and the ministry of Finance to help," Mr Kiria says in the statement.

Estimates by the ministry of Health indicate that the requested Sh577 billion would enable MSD undertake clearing, storage and distribution of vertical programme drugs and supplies, procuring ARVs, family planning, maternal and child health supplies and purchase of blood transfusion reagent and supplies for the whole 2016/17 financial year.

Mr Kiria challenged the Health ministry officials to come forward and give an in depth analysis of the problem and efforts being taken to ensure supply of medicines at public hospitals, health centres and dispensaries instead of refuting information published in their own website (MSD).

"Officials from the relevant authorities are supposed to admit that shortages of drugs are largely contributed by the government's failure to release funds," he said.

In order to reduce the problems of shortages of medical supplies Sikika proposes several measures.
Firstly, it says, the money that the government owes MSD shouldn't be factored in annual budgetary allocations.

"It is high time the MSD debt was transferred to the Treasury instead of including it in the medical supplies budget because the public is being confused and misled. Out of this financial year's Sh251 billion budget allocated to MSD, only Sh143 billion goes to purchase medicines and the rest goes to repay the debt," he said.

Sikika suggests further that MSD should be allowed to operate as a fully independent parastatal with the leeway to compete with private wholesalers. It adds that the mandatory central purchase of health commodities by public healthfacilities through the MSD should be abolished to pave the way for a fully decentralised system.

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