HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo says the availability of essential medicines and medical supplies in the last five years has been low.

Rendering a ministerial on the availability of medicines and medical supplies in public health facilities countrywide, Thursday, Masebo said the national stock had been low for the past five years.

“The availability of essential medicines and medical supplies countrywide in the last five years has been below the expected target of 80 percent. Members will appreciate that for the country to be said to be sufficient in the provision of medicines, the country needs to ensure that at least we are at 80 percent. Currently, Mr Speaker, the national stock position is low. Although some facilities may have the required essential medicines and medical suppliers. Mr Speaker, this deficit is necessitated by a number of factors. Mr Speaker, the first issue is the issue of resources. You will appreciate that for a country’s medical supplies to be at 80 percent, the amount of resources that will be required will be K5.2 billion. However, this has not been the case unfortunately for many years, especially in the last three-five years,” Masebo said.

“You will note Mr Speaker that only in the year 2021, the budget for procurement of medicines and medical supplies was about K1.4 billion. This is against a total annual drug budget of K5.2 billion. This gap in the budget overtime negatively impacted on commodity security. Because of this deficit over the years, the Ministry of Health kept on procuring drugs without paying the suppliers leading to a drug debt of over K2.2 billion. The accumulation of this drug debt has become unbearable and as a result, most suppliers could no longer supply medicines and the medical suppliers as they needed to be unlocked through debt servicing.”

She explained that there were irregularities in the procurement process as ZAMMSA did not conduct a transparent tendering procedure.

“Mr Speaker, the new dawn government took note of this situation and as you noted in the current annual budget of 2022, the new dawn administration increased resources for purchase of drugs from K1.4 billion to K3.8 billion. In addition, last year, in December, the Ministry of Finance taking into account the situation on the ground, released outstanding allocations for drugs supply for three months and all these resources were paid in December to allow facilities countrywide to at least as a matter of emergency to procure some medicines and medical suppliers from local suppliers and manufacturers. In addition, the new dawn government in addition to what was released to all the health facilities, released a further K617 million for emergency procurement of medicines and medical supplies from medical suppliers and manufactures by ZAMMSA,” she said.

“However, Mr Speaker, I wish to draw the attention of this House and the public to recollect that this process for procurement was advertised by ZAMMSA. However, there were irregularities in the procurement process as ZAMMSA did not conduct a transparent tendering procedure and as a result, there were arbitration processes which were initiated by complaints from various bidders. This led to the newly appointed board and the new ZAMMSA management to re-initiate a new and transparent procurement process. This was done in the spirit of transparency and fairness but also in the spirit of helping to build proper trusted procurement systems for the institution.”

Masebo said there was a ploy by suppliers who mounted a massive propaganda to create a bad picture of the drug situation.

“It is as a result of this action by ZAMMSA management to re-advertise this particular contract, you have noted a systematic ploy by some of the suppliers who have mounted a massive propaganda to create a very bad picture of the drugs situation in the country. This is why you have heard people saying this situation of the drugs has been there for six months. A question that should beg an answer is if it is six months, what was happening in the last six months? The truth of the matter is the levels of drugs in this country have been low,” Masebo said.

“Normally, for one to have a supply of drugs to last you three months and at three months you begin to get through the process of procurement. Mr Speaker, I want to inform that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the global supply chain in that most countries which manufacture raw materials for medicines and medical supplies were on lockdown coupled with restrictions in the transport sector. Mr Speaker, indeed the situation in the facilities can only be said to be very good when supplies are above 80 percent.”

She added that the country would receive a first batch of imported supplies by next month.

“The House may wish to note that unlike hospitals that buy their drugs and medical supplies from within the country, most of ZAMMSA drugs and supplies come from outside the country. This is because ZAMMSA procures in bulk, for all facilities and for many months, so it takes a bit of time to finalise the process. I need to assure the House that this procurement process has advanced and the country should be receiving the first batch imported of these imported commodities by April 2022,” she said.

Masebo said very soon, Zambia would have a coverage of 95 per cent.

“Further, I am delighted to inform the House that procurement of 42,000 Health Centre Kits which form the backbone of Primary Health care service supply chain is being finalised by ZAMMSA. This procurement will translate into a one year’s supply with a coverage of over 95 percent…ZAMMSA has even started receiving some critical medicines and medical supplies. In addition, hospitals are also procuring using monthly grants. A total of 74,435 by 30 pack size of antimalarial drugs (Artemether Lumefantrine). The first delivery of 151,695 out of the 704,300 by 100 pack size was completed on 16th February 2022. The balance of 552,605 is being delivered as a staggered quantity. These are actively being delivered into ZAMMSA as I speak,” she said.

Masebo added that the emergency procurement of ARVs for the second and third line had been complemented.

Meanwhile, Masebo said government would, with the support of partners, operationalise the Medicines and Medical Supplies Fund.

“The donor community has also contributed to commodity security. ARVs, TB medicines, Anti-malaria drugs, Anti-COVID drugs, drugs for treatment of HIV related diseases, test kits for HIV, viral load test kits, test kits for COVID, and various others drugs and supplies are also in good supply because government, working through the donors, has made these available. Government will, with the support of partners, operationalize the Medicines and Medical Supplies Fund established under the Zambia Medicines and Medical Supplies Agency Act, No. 9 of 2019. The purpose of the Fund is to provide among others: to ensure availability of medicines and medical supplies in public health facilities; and to procure and distribute medicines and medical supplies for emergency purposes for public health facilities,” said Masebo.