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Chronic medications shortage hits Lesotho



MASERU – A critical shortage of medicines for chronic diseases and conditions has gripped Lesotho, thepost can reveal.

And the reason is not a shortage of such medicines or money to buy them.

The crisis has been caused by the Ministry of Health’s failure to process permits for pharmacies to import medicines from South Africa.

For the past eight weeks, the ministry has been telling pharmacies that there was no stationery to print permits known as Import Clearance Certificates.

The certificate, a regulatory requirement for pharmacies to import medicines, is printed by the Government Printers, a state-owned company.

The Ministry of Health ran out of stationery in early February and has not received new supplies since then.

The result is that all pharmacies and drug wholesalers in Lesotho have been unable to import medicines for the past eight weeks.

Pharmacists who spoke to thepost this week described the shortage of medicines as a disaster, warning that further delays could lead to deaths, especially among those with chronic conditions.

“It’s a disaster because this is a life and death issue,” said Peter Velaphe, the president of the Pharmacy Owners’ Association of Lesotho.

“If you go to any pharmacy in the country you will see that the shelves are empty. What makes the situation worse is that we are still in the dark as to when the certificates will be issued,” added Velaphe who owns a pharmacy in Teya-Teyaneng.

A visit to several pharmacies in Maseru confirmed the dire shortage of medicines.

Pharmacists told the thepost that they had either run out of medicines or their stocks were now critically low.

They said they have run out of medicines for chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments. Those who rely on private pharmacies for antiretroviral drugs are also struggling.

“The situation is particularly desperate for those who take medicines for chronic diseases. We have nothing,” said a pharmacist in Maseru.

He said they have told some of their patients desperate for refills to cross to South Africa. “But not everyone can afford to make the trip to South Africa.”

Another pharmacist said the ministry has been promising that the permits will be printed since early February.

“But every time we check with them they tell us a different date,” she said.

The National Drug Service Organisation (NDSO) which supplies government hospitals and clinics with medicines is also facing a similar crisis.

“We have been struggling to import supplies because of the permits,” said Bokang Ntšoeu, the NDSO’s public relations officer. She said so far there is no indication as to when the permits will be issued.

Jermina Mphoso, the ministry’s director of pharmacy, said the delay in the certificates was caused by “internal issues” at the Government Printers.

“Although we owe the Government Printers for past services, the issue has nothing to do with the payment. It appears that they have internal issues they are trying to sort out,” Mphoso said.

“We knew the permits were going to run out and we made all the necessary arrangements to get more printed.

“We even wrote to the Government Secretary and funds were sourced for us to print the permits. We gave the purchase order to the Government Printers some two weeks ago but they still have not delivered. I have been calling and calling and they have been promising to deliver,” Mphoso said.

Mphoso said the printers have promised her a few books this week.

Mokhachane Posholi, the director of the Government Printers, said they had a problem with the numbering machine but it has since been fixed.

He however said they had farmed out the printing job to Mazenod Printers.

“They had a backlog but they have now assured us that they will deliver at least a few books so that the ministry can issue certificates for pharmacies to start importing medicines,” Phosholi said.

“We initially demanded that they pay for previous services before printing but we realised that the situation was desperate because the ministry urgently needed the certificate. We made an exception.”

Staff Reporter

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