MINISTER of Health Dr Jonas Chanda has bemoaned the large number of drugs expiring at the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supply Agency (ZAMMSA) when health facilities are experiencing drug shortages.

And Dr Chanda has announced that cooperating partners have pledged US$2 billion to support service delivery and health systems strengthening; covering the medium term expenditure framework, 2021 to 2023.

Speaking when he toured ZAMSA, Monday, Dr Chanda said the expiry of drugs in storage was unacceptable as the country spent a lot of money on them.

“So that is a wastage to the country because the country spends a lot of money buying drugs that will never be used in the facilities. They expire then we start now throwing them away when we have spent millions of kwacha, even dollars. So that is totally unacceptable. It’s a bad wastage of resources. Then we are not doing a service to the Zambian people because if they are all seated here expired, I mean when I tour hospitals, one of the major issues is there are no drugs,” Dr Chanda said.

“Very important products that are expiring here, life saving, clorophenical suspension, very important antibiotic, yet it’s expiring here at Medical Stores when it’s supposed to have been used somewhere at a facility. When was the expiry date for this? So 2017, this is which year? So 2017 to 2021, is how many years? Dour years. Now four years we are still dealing with things that expired four years ago because a child born four years ago are they still breastfeeding? So this is what we are allowing. Let me tell you, the real danger, apart from the incompetence in procurement and keeping those things expired, the money that government is wasting and the denial of services to the patient, the real danger is that with the corruption that is rampant in some of our people who are pilfering drugs, they will come and get this same expired thing, it will find itself in a private pharmacy somewhere and unsuspecting Zambians are going to buy this when it expired four years ago, you are keeping it here.”

He ordered ZAMSA to give him a comprehensive report detailing the people who procured drugs with a short shelf life.

“What I want to encourage, let’s be honest and truthful, we don’t have to hide and start covering things because if we find people hiding, we just have to fire them because it shows that you are an enemy of the Zambian people. So to me, I want very authentic reports so that we know how much money is being wasted through these kinds of things and how do we now prevent that. I know procurement has been at MoH by and large of medicines and medical products, now procurement is coming here so I want you to show us, in the presentation what systems you have put in place to avoid what has been happening here but like I said, any individuals who are found to be responsible for this wastage, we have to hold them accountable, they have to be dealt with,” he said.

“I just hope there are no those cartels that are getting expired products and going to use them now in pharmacies, killing the people. That would be criminal negligence and we will deal with firmly against those kinds of people and if they are employees, we will just fire them on the spot and then they have to be prosecuted because that’s what we do with criminal incompetence, negligence. So these things, MD, they have to be disposed off, if we have to burn them or incinerate them, incinerate them. So next time I come here which is in a very few days’ time, we shouldn’t find this stuff here.”

And during a press briefing earlier, Dr Chanda announced that donors had pledged $2 billion towards Zambia’s health sector.

“The annual consultative meeting for 2021 was therefore held on Thursday 4th February 2021 and gave an opportunity for cooperating partners, bilateral and multilateral cooperation’s to indicate commitments towards the 2021 budget and the medium term expenditure framework. During this meeting, the cooperating partners committed to contribute a total of US$2,067,787,551 to support service delivery and health systems strengthening, covering the medium term expenditure framework, 2021 to 2023. And we should note that if you compare the amount for last year in 2020 where the partners gave the country US$639,300,363. For 2021 alone, there has been an increase of 29 percent from last year’s figure of US$639 million to the 2021 figure of US$820 million. And this US$2 billion like I said is over a three year period, 2021 to 2023,” he said.

He disclosed that the Africa CDC, through the southern Africa regional collaborating centre coordinator, also announced the commitment of US$25 million for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for health workers in Africa.

He further assured cooperating partners that the resources would be handled with total transparency and accountability.

“I take this opportunity to most sincerely thank our cooperating partners for the support even when the confidence in the health sector was low. This commitment shows that our cooperating partners still have renewed confidence in the leadership of his excellency president Edgar Chagwa Lungu, I assure our cooperating partners and all our stakeholders that the resources commuted will be handled with total transparency and accountability as these resources are from tax payers from their respective countries where cooperating partners hail and from which they themselves also have to give accountability on usage to their citizens,” said Chanda.

Meanwhile, ZAMSA acting managing director Chipopa Kazuma attributed the expiry of drugs at the facility to over-procuring and treatment regimen changes, among reasons.

“There are a number of reasons why medical products were expiring in a facility like this, there are times when they are over-procured, there are times when also maybe regiments change and therefore expiries will happen but we have endeavoured to reduce the number of expiries…Sometimes there is a mismatch from the information we get from the facilities and what they need so you have a product like this that expires and yet it’s needed. So what we do from our side, we try to reach out to facilities even for products that are about to expire, but we can only go that far,” said Kazuma.