Medicine supply crisis rocks East Cape clinics

February 18, 2008

Medicine supply crisis rocks East Cape clinics

Derrick Spies DEPUTY CHIEF REPORTER [The Herald On-line]

CHRONIC medication, immunisations and tuberculosis medicines have not been reaching the Eastern Cape clinics they have been earmarked for because of severe disruptions at the Port Elizabeth depot.

A high-level delegation from the Eastern Cape provincial health department was dispatched last week to address the problems that have led to the shortages, which include the depot running out of paper to print out invoices, resulting in orders not being issued.

A probe by The Herald into the conditions at clinics in the Cacadu, Chris Hani, Ndlambe and Makana areas has established that the majority have had a problem with the supply of medicines from the depot.

At least 20 clinics, serving as many as 80000 people dependent on public healthcare in the Makana and Ndlambe areas alone, are running short of drugs to curb hypertension, diabetes and even tuberculosis. Clinics in Nelson Mandela Bay, closer to the depot, have not been as severely affected, but patients have complained about the critical lack of medication.

But, while clinics contacted last Wednesday were quite open about the problems they were experiencing, as long as they were not named directly, clinics contacted later in the week refused to comment.

We have been contacted by our supervisor and instructed not to talk to you, said one clinic sister.

Provincial clinical support services chief director Marion Ahern, who is part of the task team that has been investigating the problems at the depot, said: There are problems at the depot which have resulted in a number of backlogs and some supplies are lower than they should be, but we are addressing the matter.

She said the delays were in part due to a clerical issue that had resulted in the courier company for the depot not doing deliveries because it had not been paid in November. This had been rectified and the courier had resumed deliveries, but the delays had resulted in backlogs.

It is also true that we experienced problems with a shortage of paper, but this has been blown out of proportion. There was a technical budget error, which has since been rectified, and the delays were only temporary, she said.

A well-informed source said the problems at the depot ran deeper than simple administrative issues.

One of the problems was that they never paid their temporary staff in December, which resulted in a walkout. So even though stock was arriving, there was no one to process it.

The budget issues they are having are also as a result of the depot being earmarked for a public private partnership deal. Ever since the deal was halted, financial problems at the depot have simply been overlooked.

The source said the depot was also severely understaffed and one of the few remaining pharmacists had left at the end of last month.

The depot manager was also off sick, which meant there was little to no supervision taking place.

Clinics have also painted a much bleaker picture regarding their medicine supply.

Im still waiting for my November drug orders and Decembers orders are coming, but one or two items at a time, said one sister.

I havent even bothered trying to follow up with my January stocks yet.

When approached for comment on the problems at the depot, provincial health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo referred the matter to his superior, Siyanda Manana, who could not be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Sbongile Dimbaza and Mike Loewe

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