Shortage of critical medication threatening lives

By Maria Kandjungu and Hertta-Maria Amutenja

THE Ministry of Health is yet again faced with a dire shortage of critical medication including high blood pressure medication, family planning tablets, asthmatic pumps and tablets.

The ministry is also low on the supply of several forms of antibiotics.

The dire situation is threatening lives of sick Namibians, especially those living with chronic conditions who are forced to go for months without receiving their medication.

The Onandjokwe District Hospital which is one of the major hospitals in the northern part of the country and serves a population of over 200 000 people has been out of the said medication for over a month now and patients are now being told to buy medicine at private pharmacies.

Confidente understands that the problem emanates from the government Central Medical Store in Windhoek which has been experiencing low supplies of medicines since last year.

A family of a 20-year-old patient who is on oxygen support after he was last week admitted at Onandjokwe hospital in a critical condition told Confidente that they were told by the doctors that the antibiotics needed to stabilise his condition were out of stock and that the family had to find the drug required for the doctor to administer.

According to the family, the doctor explained to them that the boy had a chicken pox complication and needed Acyclovir to stabilise him.

At the pharmacy, the family was allegedly informed that the antibiotic in the prescribed quantity would cost them N$14 000.

“I was shocked, and I didn’t have that amount of money but he was in a bad state. He could barely eat or move or speak properly… I had to find money, so I borrowed. I was borrowing from different people because no one will just give you N$14 000 even if your child is on a death bed. First the money was not enough but the pharmacist understood my situation so I paid half the money and the pharmacy gave us half the medicine enough for two days,” the boy’s aunt narrated.

She said that she managed to borrow the rest of the money the following day and took the medicine to the doctor.

“It is shocking that government would expect a person to have such an amount of money to buy medication. I now owe people a lot of money… They [government officials] have their children on medical aid and they do not care about the rest of us or if our children die.”

A registered nurse working at the hospital said that it is common for the families of admitted patients to be asked to bring medicine for their loved ones.

“We try to economise and give them the next best medicine to supplement but there are such instances where there is nothing that we can do. We admit the patient because they are critically ill but the medicines are not there … so we inform the family. You find families that cannot afford and we sometimes try to help from our own pockets but it happens to so many people and sometimes even we can’t afford it,” she said.

Maternity ward still a crisis

Confidente was also informed that due to a shortage of incubators in the maternity ward premature babies are sometimes sharing incubators.

“It’s a mess here [at maternity ward]. We try to make it work. For instance about the premature babies, there is really nothing else we can do. They need the incubators and so if it means sharing then they have to share. Every time we bring some of these things up we told there is no money.”

The maternity ward has been experiencing a shortage of beds for a number of years due to delay in construction and completion of a new maternity ward that has been under construction since 2015.

As a result mothers and their newborn babies are sometimes forced to sleep on the cold floors in the ward corridors.

According to the nurse while they try to provide new mothers and their babies with mattresses when all beds are occupied, they also run out of mattresses. This situation has allegedly resulted in new born babies waking up with rashes due to mosquito bites or cockroaches running all over their soft skin during the night.

Onandjokwe Hospital superintendent Dr Akutu Munyika confirmed the situation to Confidente saying that when it comes medicines shortage, they usually consult the relatives of the patient to buy or ask for financial assistance from other entities to buy the medication from private pharmacies.

“It is unfortunate that some patients have to buy their own medicine when they have run out. This is because the Central Medical Store is also out of stock. When they have run out of medications, we have to resort to other means. We have run out of medications which are for high blood pressure but we have an alternative that we use,” Munyika said.

While confirming the congested maternity ward’s critical situation, he said they expect the new ward to be completed within two months which he said would relieve the pressure.

“We deliver about 7000 babies a year, and seven to eight through C-section every night. The maternity ward space is very limited. Some mothers are forced to sleep on the floor. We provide mattresses for those we can. Even our premature incubators are limited. Premature babies are sometimes forced to share the incubators but there is nothing we can do because we cannot allow them to sleep on the floor. Only mothers can because they are not patients,” he added.