The Pharmaceutical Society of Zambia (PSZ) has insisted that the proposed Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency Bill Number 13 of 2019 is a bad law which does not comply with international standards.

Appearing before the parliamentary committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services to make submissions on the Ramification of the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency Bill Number 13 of 2019, Wednesday, PSZ president Jerome Kanyika told the committee, which was chaired by Keembe UPND member of parliament Princess Kasune, that the society had been faced with intimidation in its pursuit to make its views known on the proposed bill.

“Currently, there is a lot of intimidation especially in the Ministry of Health. When we had a presentation at the Ministry of Justice, the minister himself started threatening the people he carried saying ‘if you defend what the pharmaceutical Society of Zambia is saying, it will result in the career-limiting’ meaning that people will be fired for defending the good things. No wonder it is only in Zambia where expiry of drugs is just considered as just one of those things. How can you procure drugs worth US$10 million and US$4 million worth of drugs expire without punishing anyone and without anyone losing a license? That is unacceptable! We cannot continue with that chair. We are in a resource-limited country and we need to use any small resource prudently so that the people of Zambia can benefit from all their taxpayers’ money. And chair, we request that if Ministry of Health can have a directorate for pharmaceutical services, we recommend that a pharmacist should run that directorate,” Kanyika said.

Kanyika also opposed the appointment of the board chairperson by the responsible minister but suggested that he or she should be elected by board members for efficiency purposes.

“The chairman for the board should not be from the responsible Ministry of Health. Not only that, you find that most of the positions have given a lot of authority to the minister which should not be allowed. These institutions should be as much independent as possible and they need to be accountable to the people of Zambia as compared to one individual at that time. The chairperson should not be appointed by the minister. Let the chairperson be elected by the board members there so that he/she is not influenced by any political intervention,” Kanyika said.

“It also becomes absurd and something unacceptable that we have proper laboratory just there by medical stores but then we allow drugs to be supplied in health centers and again we go and test them and find that they are counterfeit. We need to test all the medication before we subject any person in this country to take that medication.”

And PSZ finance and mobilization chairman Gallen Sichilima said the Medicines Supply Agency Bill should not be enacted in its current form as it does not respond to the international standard.

“This particular Bill, if enacted, it is going to be a stand alone. It is not going to speak to any international standard, not even regional standard. We recommend that can we redraft this current Bill N0.13 to comply with international standard and best practices,” Sichilima said.

He also complained that in the current procurement system of drugs, pharmacists were not consulted resulting in a number of drugs being recalled from health facilities.

“The procurement of drugs has no input from the pharmacists. Pharmacists have not been consulted. If they have been consulted, I don’t think any pharmacist in their right state of mind and they are qualified would allow the coming in of drugs which would later be withdrawn on pretext that it was short expired. And with the system that we have, even the director general [for Medical Stores) has no powers and we hope that by introducing. And we hope that by introducing an agency aspect, it will give some leverage to whoever will be a director to ensure that decisions are made independently. Ministry of Health centrally has been procuring medical drugs. In systems like the UK systems, you won’t find these problems of recall this [drug] because they have stringent measures on how a drug is procured,” Sichilima said.

Meanwhile, PSZ national secretary Daniel Mwaba said the proposed Bill would take the country centuries back if allowed to proceed.

“We see a Bill that changes totally from what stakeholders submitted. The stakeholders had actually put in measures to ensure that the board is having so much independence and of course to take away the so much influence that is put in one man who is a minister responsible for health. We see that this will take us so much backward because we are trying by all means to improve corporate governance in most of the legislations that should come up. We need independent people to run such an important agency. If what stakeholders can put in can be done away with by putting powers in one person who is the minister, then we may not progress so much. According to the suggestion of the Bill, if [board] member has an issue with the minister, then the minister could remove that person at will and replace him with anyone that the minister feels should be a member, which again will take away the independence of these stakeholders,” said Mwaba.