We have a Sh500bn drug shortage: MSD

Tuesday January 5 2016

Photo taken on July 24 last year shows a

Photo taken on July 24 last year shows a Medical Stores Department (MSD) staff walking  through the MSD headquarters in Dar es Salaam. MSD needs about Sh 577 billion annually to end the chronic shortage of medical supplies. PHOTO| EMMANUEL HERMAN 

By Syriacus Buguzi

Dar es Salaam. The Medical Stores Department says a Sh497 billion deficit  will make it difficult to meet the demands of public hospitals this financial year. 

MSD director Laurian Rugambwa told The Citizen in an interview yesterday that his agency was only allocated Sh80 billion in the 2015/16 financial year out of over Sh500 billion it needs to end the chronic shortage of medical supplies. 

“For the past four years, we have not managed to accomplish the plans we set out  for drug procurement and distribution due to poor budget allocations,” Mr Rugambwa said.

He said the medical department has been struggling with an average annual budget of between Sh60 billion and Sh80 billion, leading to unending public outcry over the shortage of medicines and medical supplies in regional and district hospitals around the country.

“I am very certain that the solution for the shortage of medicine in public hospitals would be to meet the budget requirements. This, of course, goes hand in hand with proper management of the money,” he noted.

Over the years, the MSD, an agency under the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare responsible for supplying vital medical equipment in the country has been dogged by financial and logistical challenges that at times escalated into big public health crises.

Budgetary constraints and delays in the disbursement of funds by the government to the MSD, has been largely limiting the agency’s capacity in supplying the drugs and hence failing to cope with the increasing demand of the medicines in the country, the MSD boss said.

However, the public demand for the medical supplies and medicine has been rising over the years, reports from local health researchers indicate.    

According to last year’s report by Sikika, a health advocacy NGO, the estimated demand for essential medicine and medical supplies has been increasing from about Sh188 billion in 2011/12 to about Sh577 billion in 2014/15.

But on the contrary, the government’s budget allocations to for the medicines/supplies have been faltering over the same period.

In the 2011/12 budget the government committed about Sh123.5 billion but in the recent 2014/2015 budget only Tsh36.2billion was committed, according to information from the National Health Accounts (NHA).

With the latest reports of the current budget shortfalls, it means that President John Magufuli’s government will have no choice but to continue widening the tax collection base in an effort to guarantee the timely supply of medicine to all Tanzanians, stakeholders warned yesterday. The issue of inadequate medical supplies featured prominently in the last year’s General Election campaigns. Dr Magufuli blamed the shortages on unethical medical staff and vowed to deal with them if elected president in the October polls. True to his word upon his election he ordered all private pharmacies located near public hospitals shut down.

But in an interview yesterday the Director for Sikika, Mr Irenei Kiria, told The Citizen that problems in the health sector were none other than the inadequate funding of health projects.

“The government is now focusing on preventing leakages in drugs distribution chain. But how can the government protect what it has not supplied?” quarried Mr Kiria.

He proposed the overhauling of the entire healthcare financing system, including addressing the funding gaps at the country’s medical stores department and ensuring that the health sector budget is fully funded.

For many years, healthcare planners have argued that the government lacked the political-will to revamp the healthcare system. Their argument was mainly based on the government’s longstanding failure to increase the healthcare budget and instilling financial discipline. African leaders have agreed, in the past, to commit 15 percent of their government’s national budget to healthcare in the Abuja Declaration.

But Tanzania has been able to commit only 11.3 percent, according to this year’s budget books. Only Rwanda and Zambia exceeded the targets, according to reports.

Many African countries have not followed the benchmarks for health spending, with most of them spending less than the Abuja target of 15, some reports show.