The Ministry of Health is in panic mode, making frantic efforts to withdraw a Chinese manufactured drug which has turned out to be toxic on patients in various hospitals across the country.

Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya confirmed the case to News Diggers but said a full statement would be issued once the technocrats carry out a thorough investigation on the supply.

His Permanent Secretary Dr Kennedy Malama has issued a circular, advising all health facilities, provincial medical administrations and district health directors to quarantine a drug called “Gentamycin Sulphate BP injection” manufactured by CSPC Ouyi Pharmaceutical Company Limited in China, after receiving reports of its devastating side effects on patients from the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA).

ZAMRA reported that the Gentamed injection batch no. S MD180107 and 180108 led to severe headaches and vomiting in patients who were administered the drug from various health facilities across the country.

“Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority has received reports of adverse reactions [such as] severe headache and vomiting from various health facilities across the country following the administration of the above stated product. In this regard, the ministry directs all institutions to quarantine the stated batches with immediate effect, in order to allow the Authority to carry out further investigations. Institutions will be guided on the next steps after the investigations are concluded,” stated Dr Malama in his letter dated March 1, 2019.

Dr Chilufya declined to take further questions from this reporter, apart from confirming that the ministry was aware of the situation and a statement would be issued.

“A statement will be issued on that subject. I am not saying anything else, a statement will be issued. But for now I would rather technocrats do there work then a statement will be issued,” said Dr Chilufya before hanging up the phone conversation.

Meanwhile, Pharmaceutical Society of Zambia president Jerome Kanyika accused the supplier of delivering drugs which did not match with the samples presented when bidding for the supply tender.

“What happens when someone is bringing their samples to be registered in this country, they bring the best of their samples. But in the long run as they win tenders or contracts, you find that they change in the way they do things. Like where someone says ‘in this tablet, there is this amount of drugs’, but then as they win the tenders, they bring a tablet that does not consist the amount of drugs that they talked about when registering. So what happens once those people bring their products in the country and they are allowed to be in the Health institutions, the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority is mandated now to do what is called Pharmacovigilance checking. Meaning they are checking how the medicines are working, and if those medicines are giving people any side effects or not,” Kanyika explained.

Further, Kanyika hailed ZAMRA and the Ministry of Health for taking quick action after identifying the problem with the affected drug.

“So in that process that’s when ZAMRA now tells what exactly the drugs contain and that problems truly lies with the supplier of a particular drug. So in this case, the one who is liable to whatever may happen is the supplier of that medicine. And we need to appreciate ZAMRA for being proactive in this matter and notifying everyone. As I am speaking to you right now, all our members in these government institutions have already quarantined that medicine, they are not using it on people. They are using alternative drugs because this particular one is still under investigations,” said Kanyika.

“ZAMRA should continue to be proactive the way they have shown to be proactive in this matter. And to the suppliers, let’s make sure that they supply the drugs that they bring for testing unlike them trying to alter what they bring in when registering the medicines. As for pharmacists who are accessing this medicine, please let’s quarantine everything so that we protect the general public, as our basic role is to protect the general public and every person that comes in the public health institutions. So it’s kudos to ZAMRA and the Permanent Secretary for being proactive in notifying the general public within a short period of time. We need to appreciate ourselves for that good work that has been done.”

In December 2019, the Zambia Pharmaceuticals Business Forum (ZPBF) raised a red flag against the Ministry of Health for exclusively awarding tenders for the supply of drugs to companies of personal interests, against the public procurement guidelines.

ZPBF wrote to Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, demanding the cancellation of tender number MoH/SP/016/17, among others, which was not subjected to open and inclusive bidding.

ZPBF listed some of the questionable tenders as: “Tender for the supply of essential medicines, tender No MoH/SP/O16/17 with an estimated value of more than US$80 million. Tender for the supply of cancer drugs, tender No MoH/SP/009/17 with an estimated value of more than US$40 million and the award of a 2-year framework for Orthopedic Implants.”

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