Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Government is concerned with the continuous charging of pharmaceutics in foreign currency despite forex allocations the sector is getting from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).
Government appealed to the pharmaceutical industry to accept all forms of payment at the official 1:1 rate, including accepting medical aid cards as Government is exploring ways of making medicines and medical sundries available and affordable in both the public and private sector.
Speaking at Tuesday’s Cabinet briefing, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said Government was worried that retailers continued to charge US dollars despite substantial foreign currency allocations to the sector, thereby pushing access to healthcare beyond the reach of many.
“It is very worrying for our retail pharmacists to continue charging in US dollars,” he said. “We know that the US dollar is almost non-existent in Zimbabwe. We know that the poor are suffering to access medicines and there is someone who is charging in a currency that is not easily available in Zimbabwe.
“We continue urging the retailers to resist charging in foreign currency and to accept medical aid cards.”
Dr Moyo said Government was engaging the pharmaceutical wholesalers who were reportedly selling the drugs in foreign currency to the retailers, yet they were receiving allocations from the RBZ.
“We want to correct the whole chain,” he said. “The wholesalers are being given foreign currency. Yes, it might not be much at this stage, but whatever is available it must be used transparently and that is why Cabinet has said we must be able to come up with a monitoring system to ensure that foreign currency allocations are appropriately utilised.”
Regarding medical aid societies, Dr Moyo said Government had engaged them and they had expressed their willingness to pay service providers within the shortest possible time.
He said Government was actually pushing them to come up with a system that is almost real time in settling claims.
Dr Moyo said the current scenario has made it difficult for patients particularly those with chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension to access their medications, whose US$ pricing is also exorbitant.
He said the number of concerns that have so far reached Government regarding the current scenario in the medical sector were phenomenal and required action to protect patients.
“We need to ensure that wholesalers who benefited from the allocations are also able to sell the drugs to retailers using the local currency,” said Dr Moyo.
He said Government was working towards supporting the local pharmaceutical manufacturing industry to provide products that could be made locally.
Dr Moyo said at the same time, Government was working with India to provide guarantee of payment on behalf of Zimbabwe to Indian manufacturers using letters of credit.
“We have also received requests from Indian manufacturers who want to come and set up shop here,” he said. “This is a plan that we have and at the same time we are grateful to the Indian government which has promised us a donation of medicines close to 100 000 tonnes.”
Responding to Dr Moyo’s appeal, Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe spokesperson Mr Portifa Mwendera said issues of supply remained at the centre of pricing of pharmaceutical products.
“The supply issues have not been dealt with adequately and as such shortages and demand to fund imports are still existent,” he said. “The importers have not received adequate foreign currency allocations to make a significant impact on the market.”
Mr Mwendera said to date, the industry only received about $9,9 million of which $6,7 million was in form of letters of credit.
He said the private sector required at least US$2 million every week to meet demand.
“All recipients of the letters of credit are indicating that their banks are at various stages of implementation, with most still waiting for acceptance at the supplier end,” said Mr Mwendera.
He said presently, private pharmaceutical companies were able to procure insulins from Natpharm, some products from Caps Pharmaceuticals and contraceptives from the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council using Real Time Gross Settlement.
Asked about the exorbitant US dollar pricing regime by other retailers, Mr Mwendera said pricing was dependent on how the retailer had sourced medicines.
He said prices were now returning to normal as industry players were sharing cost information on available and affordable stocks.
Regarding reimbursements to service providers, the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe said on average societies were settling claims within seven to 14 days.
AHFOZ chief executive Mrs Shylet Sanyanga said there were some providers who were accepting medical aid cards, while others were demanding cash.
“General practitioners, dentists and all specialist disciplines including investigative services are accepting the medical aid card, though some of them are charging cash shortfalls,” said Mrs Sanyanga.