By Paidashe Mandivengerei
MEDICAL drugs worth US$60 million are smuggled into Zimbabwe every year as the demand for cheap medical supplies remains high, the Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) has revealed.
The smuggling of drugs is perpetuated by the high demand for cheaper medical supplies in the country where the economy is struggling and the majority of citizens cannot afford to spend much on medication.
Legally imported and locally manufactured medical drugs are more expensive than than smuggled drugs as they are subjected to tax, transport and distribution costs and as such their exorbitant prices are out of reach to struggling citizens.
In its latest report, ‘Illicit Financing in Zimbabwe’s Health Sector’, the anti-graft coalition said 20% of the drugs consumed locally are acquired as contraband.
The illegal importation of the drugs is one of the biggest challenges driving illicit financing in the local pharmaceutical sector.
“After excluding donated drugs, 20% of the drugs consumed in Zimbabwe are smuggled into the country, an estimated value of US$60 million a year,” TIZ said in its report.
“A key driver of smuggling is the high demand for low-priced drugs in Zimbabwe. A large proportion (70%) of Zimbabweans is poor and an estimated 90% of Zimbabweans do not have medical insurance.”
In addition to undermining the local pharmaceutical industry, smuggling of drugs poses a serious danger to people’s health as some drugs’ potency deteriorates during transportation.
Drugs, particularly those used in surgery like the muscle relaxant, Atracurium, need refrigeration to maintain potency. The hand over from manufacturer to the end user through refrigerated units is called the cold chain and when this link is broken the drugs’ effectiveness is lost.
The same goes for insulin used for diabetes treatment which is likely to spoil in high temperatures during smuggling posing a health hazard to the patient.
“Medical supplies and especially drugs are smuggled across Zimbabwe’s borders. Smuggling of drugs poses an immense danger to the health of Zimbabwe’s citizens.
“Most drugs have some storage requirements and are potentially similarly affected by smuggling, more so when they are transported together with other goods such as stock-feed and fuel.
“Other drugs could be fake or sub-standard, containing less potency than is advertised which creates health risks for users,” TIZ added in its report.