Government is considering outsourcing pharmaceutical services to the private sector to avoid instances where patients are returned from public health facilities without medication.
Dr Kolaatamo Malefho, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health (MoH)told Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday that his ministry is not ignoring the problem of shortage of drugs and manpower in government hospitals and clinics.
PAC member and MP for Palapye, Moiseraele Goya had asked Malefho to explain why patients are often made to buy medication when government should be providing it. Malefho said most of the time it is not that there are no drugs but that there is shortage of manpower to dispense the drugs. “Nurses have shown that they struggle with doing consultation for patients and having to leave the consultation room to dispense medicines. We have shortage of pharmacists who should be dispensing medication to patients.”
Malefho said his ministry was considering making arrangements with private pharmacies around the country to allow patients from public hospitals to get medication from them and for the pharmacies to make claims from the government later. He said this would ease overcrowding for medication in clinics and hospitals and people would not have to go without medicine when the drugs are unavailable in public health centres. But president of Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU), Goretetse Kekgonegile finds Malefho’s proposal shocking. “privatisation of any part of health care will cripple Batswana. Batswana’s lives will be held to ransom by private companies if that is allowed to happen,” he said in an interview.
He said private companies could hike prices unnecessarily knowing that the state is referring patients to them. He suggested that general nurses in public health centres must be paid for doing duties outside nursing such as dispensing medicines. However, Malefho said the ministry is anticipating hiring more nurses this year. Kekgonegile said Malefho’s proposal would affect rural populace the harshest especially that they do not have private pharmacies. “Getting health attention will no longer cost P5 but more as people will have to travel long distances in search of pharmacies for the prescribed drugs. “There will be instances where medicine is available but not dispensed because there are no pharmacists, that will be a waste of taxpayers’ money for government to pay for claims from private pharmacists while the same drugs are available in government hospitals.
Kekgonegile says the problem of shortage of drugs can be traced to mismanagement of the Central Medical Stores (CMS). “The CMS is poorly managed and has poor processes of distribution. Drugs are piled there but there is no clear distribution plan hence some of them expire before they get distributed,” he said.