HARARE: Zimbabwe’s pharmaceutical sector said Wednesday it is struggling to import critical medical drugs due to the ongoing shortage of foreign currency.
Pharmaceutical Society of Zimbabwe president Portifa Mwendera told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Welfare that the sector owes foreign medicine suppliers 38 million U.S. dollars, up from 13 million in October last year.
He said due to their inability to pay, foreign suppliers were now demanding cash up front, forcing retail pharmacies to also charge their products in U.S. dollars.
“What has happened with new trade terms is that some suppliers have actually asked for cash upfront for any deliveries into Zimbabwe,” Mwendera said.
“So you then find retailers asking the public to provide that foreign currency so that we pay for the products to get into Zimbabwe.”
He said the country was faced with a public health crisis due to the shortage of medical drugs.
“The crisis that we are in is critical in that we are already noticing shortages of some main line medicines,” Mwendera said.
“We have shortages for painkillers, anti-diabetes medicines. We also have for those stocks that are available, limited supply for about three weeks to a month or so of stocks that are in the suppliers’ warehouses,” he said.
He said the crisis had been worsened by the reluctance by foreign suppliers to continue providing medication on credit.
In September, the country imported about $6.8 million worth of medical drugs from India and in October the figure fell down to about 1.6 million dollars, he said.
“November was a very sad story and December we do not know if we will be able to import anything because as long we do not have any funds to pay for the new consignment or to service the debt, it will be a difficult position,” he said.
Mwendera urged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) to speed up and increase foreign currency allocation to enable the sector to import medicines.