The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Sunday News Reporter
CANCER patients face hard times as there are shortages of drugs for curative treatment including chemotherapy drugs as well as palliative care medication which is used to relieve pain, an official has said.
That includes morphine, an effective drug that is used to manage severe pain among people living with advanced HIV and cancers including, among others, breast, cervical, bowel, prostate, pancreatic and blood cancers.
In an interview, Island Hospice executive director, Ms Beverley Sebastian said they were experiencing drug shortages including morphine due to the prevailing economic situation.
“There are shortages of drugs in the country and it’s not just morphine as other palliative care drugs including basic pain killers such as paracetamol are not available. It means that our patients are living in pain.
“We deal with people living with life threatening conditions from the point of diagnosis, these include but are not limited to HIV, multi-drug resistant TB, dementia and cancer, hence pain killers are a must have,” said Ms Sebastian.
She narrated how the shortage of morphine has affected one of their patients.
“I am told that due to the morphine shortages a patient at one of our branches in Marondera, a 51-year-old woman living with cervical cancer we have been supporting for over a year now has started taking her morphine every eight to 10 hours as she fears it would run out if she took it every four hours as prescribed. As a result she is in agony, and is unable to eat and sleep.
“This also causes a lot of distress to her family including her young children and grandchildren. I am receiving similar reports from all our branches across Zimbabwe,” she said.
Ms Sebastian also noted that they had engaged the Ministry of Health and Child Care to assist.
“Pharmacies are charging in US dollars which many of our patients do not have access to. We have been in constant communication with the Ministry of Health and Child Care about the situation and recently we met the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr John Chamunorwa Mangwiro about this. The ministry has thus far been very helpful, however, there is still no morphine available yet,” she said.
Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe (PSZ) secretary Mr Prosper Maphosa said it was not only morphine that was in short supply.
“It is not only the shortage of morphine but there is a general dire shortage of most drugs. Over 85 percent of all medicines in this country, whether manufactured locally or finished products are imported or have an import component, hence we hope that we do get prioritisation from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for as far as allocation of foreign currency is concerned,” said Mr Maphosa.
Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said patients should engage their doctors for other alternatives since there are shortages of some of the painkillers for cancer patients.
“People are in quite serious pain but there are other alternatives that they can take which I can not disclose to the media but they can consult their doctors who can tell them what to do. Also morphine is a dangerous drug so there is nothing that we can do.
“We have to wait for it to be distributed from Harare as it is centrally controlled there.
“We hope since Government availed funds for drugs people will be able to get medication again,” he said.
Recently, RBZ allocated US$9,9 million for the purchase of medicines in a bid to ease drug shortages and price distortions.