PHARMACEUTICAL Society of Zambia (PSZ) president Kennedy Saini says Health Minister Sylvia Masebo’s statement that some pharmacists are stealing drugs has potential to erode public confidence in the profession, adding that there is actually nothing to steal in public health facilities.

On Tuesday, Masebo made a random visit to Matero Level One Hospital, fuming that she was aware pharmacists were stealing drugs and taking them to private clinics.

But in an interview, Saini said Masebo should have measured her comment because everyone would now be accusing pharmacists of stealing drugs whenever there was a shortage.

He said the government actually needed to address the unavailability of drugs in public health facilities.

“Even as a profession, we should have handled that and we should have sealed the loopholes. Through ZAMRA, we need to move in and make sure that every pharmacy that is open and operating should have a full time pharmacy. It is not everything that she said [which] is bad. What is very damaging is a lie that number one, the pharmacists are not present and are stealing drugs, taking [them] to the other side. What they are stealing could be time which is also important but not drugs because what is there to steal anyway? There is a critical shortage of medicine in the public facilities. What she needs to do is just to provide those medicines and not to say the pharmacists are stealing. That is not good and it has a potential of eroding public confidence in the pharmacists,” he said.

“She is insinuating and it is bad to speak like that. I saw it. Being emotional is one thing but it is better if you measure your comment. There are a lot of hard-working pharmacists who are putting in their best to serve the people. However, to be told like that, every patient who is told there is no medicine, they will be saying pharmacists have stolen. It is coming from the highest office so we do not like that and that is not good. Otherwise, if it was off camera, it is easy to engage them off camera but she went on camera and we are going to respond in an equal manner so that the people are aware. It is not really the stealing part, there is nothing to steal actually especially now. People should address the root cause that medicines should be delivered in facilities, that is all.”

On Masebo’s remarks that volunteers were left to administer drugs because employed pharmacists were going to work in private facilities, Saini said it was not only pharmacists who were doing that.

He, however, advised pharmacists against doing so during their working hours.

“That statement cannot be responsible and can put the patients at harm. In that aspect, I will just be interacting with those people there if indeed there was no one because that is an indictment on our profession, even if she has a point. It is not only pharmacists, even those senior doctors and consultants, try to do your research, you will see that they are not there in hospitals. But as a profession, we do not like that. For you to choose to work in the public sector, you have to give in your all. So there is no way you can be here and there just because you want to make more money. If you are on leave or outside your working hours, there is nothing that stops you from doing other duties,” said Saini.

“Some pharmacists are 24/7. If you are a superman and you knock off at 16:00 hours and you still have energy, you can go at 18:00 hours and knock off at 22:00 hours. That will be genuine money because you will have given in, in the public sector but also through your extra time, you make more money. What we are condemning is where the pharmacists are not present in the community pharmacies. Additionally, if a pharmacist is not present in a community pharmacy, appropriate staff should be there. Those are some of the things that the Minister might have a point.”