Swaziland (eSwatini) has a severe shortage of medicines of all types, the kingdom’s Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi confirmed.
The kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch, has been in a health crisis for many years.
Despite this Nkosi blamed the continuing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for much of the problem.
In a media conference she said, . ‘There are a number of reasons why the country is in this unfortunate situation. The main one being the impact of COVID-19, which has affected international supply and availability of medicines.’
However, the medicine shortage is not new. A large part of the problem is that the Swazi Government failed to pay medicine suppliers and so they stopped supplying drugs.
For example in June 2020, patients at Mbabane Government Hospital in the kingdom’s capital was left without food when a catering company refused to deliver until the government met its unpaid bills.
It was one of a long list of cases in the kingdom where patients had been neglected over the years because of the financial crisis. In July 2019 food collection points were set up across Mbabane to collect donations to feed patients at Mbabane Government Hospital when patients were left hungry after the government failed to pay food suppliers.
At the same time it was reported that hospitals and clinics were short of about 40 major medicines, including antibiotics and painkillers, to treat a variety of conditions including the flu, arthritis, fungus infection, nausea, vomiting and mental health issues.
At least six children were reported to have died from diarrhoea in August 2019. Drugs to treat them were unavailable.
In August 2019 the Ministry of Health confirmed in its first quarter performance report delivered to the Swazi parliament that drugs had run out and there were shortages of nurses, midwives and other health professionals. Fuel frequently ran out and ambulances and other vehicles had broken down.
Part of the report stated, ‘While most patients were negatively affected, highly impacted patients were those on psychiatric medication, which stocked out for longer periods and those taking anti-hypertensive treatment. The main cause for stock-outs is failure to pay suppliers on time due to the fiscal challenges facing the government.’
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported there were not enough doctors, nurses and support staff. WHO conducted the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) scoping exercise in Swaziland. Its report stated, ‘The country has inadequate health workforce in both numbers and skills. The distribution of health workforce is also skewed in favour of urban areas with some rural health facilities having staffing gaps. Other health workforce challenges include; retention of skilled staff due to frequent rotation of workers especially nurses; and government absorption of donor funded positions.’
WHO added, ‘The distribution of health facilities and access to essential health services create inequities between rural and urban populations.’
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