Tuesday, October 24, 2017


A shortage of drugs in government health facilities in Swaziland has left hundreds of new-born babies of HIV-infected mothers exposed to the virus.

The Ministry of Health said there was a breakdown in communication and that the nevirapine syrup is stuck in central stores.

Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA) Deputy Secretary General Gcinaphi Pateguana told the Sunday Observer (22 October 2017) newspaper in Swaziland there were reports of shortages of a number of drugs, including nevirapine, from across the kingdom.

The Observer reported, ‘Last month the country had a shortage of drugs and supplies used in the administration of health services. In the list of medicines reported to have run out of stock in public hospitals was nevirapine syrup, which is administered to HIV-positive mothers and babies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. 

‘The Sunday Observer understands that this medication ran out for almost a month in the entire country’s government hospitals.’ 

The newspaper added no alternative drug was given to the mothers.

Ministry of Health Chief Pharmacist Fortunate Bhembe said there had been distribution challenges in September, which led to drug shortages in hospitals. 

She told the newspaper this was mainly due to a breakdown in communication between the health facilities and the Central Medical Stores (CMS). 

‘Another challenge she cited was lack of communication between health facilities, as they could have shared or loaned each other the medication while awaiting their orders.’

Bhembe said Swaziland had not run out of medication.

However, the newspaper reported, ‘On the case of nevirapine, she said she was not aware of any facility that reported shortages during the mentioned period and only learnt of such from the newspaper report.’

There has been continuing shortages of drugs at public health facilities in Swaziland over the past year because the Swazi Government has not paid its suppliers. In September 2017 it was reported there were shortages of drugs for a range of illnesses and conditions including epilepsy, hypertension, diabetes, ulcers and treatments for HIV positive people.

Also hospitals and clinics did not have alcohols and spirits used in disinfecting apparatus, bandages and gloves.

The shortage of drugs has been ongoing in Swaziland for years. The government which is handpicked by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, often fails to pay its bills to suppliers.

In June 2017, Swazi Senator Prince Kekela told parliament that at least five people had died as a result of the shortage of medicines in Swaziland.

At the time it was reported that about US$18 million was owed to drug companies in May 2017 and they had suspended delivery of medicines until bills were paid. 

In 2014, at least 44 children died and many hundreds were hospitalised during an outbreak of diarrhoea. The Ministry of Health said it could not afford readily-available drugs. Then, the Government spent US$1.7 million on top-of-the range BMW cars for itself.

At present, Swaziland faces an outbreak of malaria and at least four people have died and hundreds have been affected.

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