Phar­ma­cies get forex headache

A med­i­cal aid card from a rep­utable in­surer is the key to ac­cess­ing qual­ity health­care, right? Wrong!

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - BUSINESS NEWS -

IN RE­CENT weeks, many phar­ma­cies in Zim­babwe have hiked drug prices by up to 70 per­cent — and they are re­ject­ing med­i­cal aid cover and in­sist­ing on US dol­lar pay­ments. They also do not want bond notes or money trans­fers, say­ing the Re­serve Bank of Zim­babwe is not pri­ori­tis­ing al­lo­ca­tion of for­eign cur­rency to them and so they need to find green­backs for im­ported stock.

Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­a­tion of Health­care Fun­ders of Zim­babwe (AHFoZ) me­dia state­ment, “Some phar­ma­cies are charg­ing huge short­falls, while some are in­sist­ing on cash pay­ments in United States dol­lars and re­ject­ing the med­i­cal aid card as well as other pay­ment meth­ods such as debit card, Eco­cash or bond notes.

“AHFoZ is en­gag­ing the Re­tail Phar­ma­cists As­so­ci­a­tion (RPA) in an ef­fort to resolve the prob­lem. The RPA say it is en­gag­ing the Re­serve Bank of Zim­babwe to seek al­lo­ca­tion of for­eign cur­rency so that phar­ma­cies can re­vert to pre­vi­ous prices. As an as­so­ci­a­tion, we are rec­om­mend­ing that med­i­cal aid so­ci­eties ap­proach in­di­vid­ual phar­ma­cies to ne­go­ti­ate con­tracts for their mem­bers, in or­der to al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing.”

Con­sumer Coun­cil of Zim­babwe ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ms Rose­lyn Siy­a­chitema said med­i­cal drugs should be at the top of RBZ’s for­eign cur­rency pri­or­ity list.

“We know that with the short­age of for­eign cur­rency the is­sue of pri­or­ity is be­com­ing a prob­lem, but as we know any­thing to do with health should be the first pri­or­ity,” she said.

“We are aware of the price hikes and we are go­ing to look into the mat­ter and in­ves­ti­gate where prices have gone up and why. At the mo­ment we have been seized with a sim­i­lar case on ba­sic com­modi­ties but we are go­ing to look into it be­cause the is­sue of health is im­por­tant.”

A phar­ma­cist who de­clined to be named for pro­fes­sional rea­sons said they were in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.

“We are be­ing called all sorts of names but peo­ple are not look­ing at all sides,” she said. “We did not ar­rive at this point by our­selves; the RBZ has not been al­lo­cat­ing us for­eign cur­rency, which makes the sit­u­a­tion dif­fi­cult be­cause where we buy stuff they want cash.

“So some of us are buy­ing cash on the par­al­lel mar­ket in or­der to im­port, a sit­u­a­tion which then pushes our costs up. It must be un­der­stood that we are in busi­ness and we have put in huge in­vest­ments. Hon­estly, be­fore peo­ple start ac­cus­ing us they should put things in con­text.”

But RBZ Gover­nor Dr John Man­gundya has trashed claims that phar­ma­cies are not get­ting for­eign cur­rency.

Last week he said the cen­tral bank was re­serv­ing U$4 mil­lion weekly for phar­ma­cies. Dr Man­gundya said the amount equalled 40 per­cent of phar­ma­cies’ forex re­quire­ments, with the 60 per­cent com­ing from banks.

“This coun­try’s econ­omy is not a huge econ­omy, this is not jus­ti­fied at all. It is abuse of con­sumers and bad busi­ness prac­tice,” he said.

“We need peo­ple to be­have be­cause there is no way prices of drugs can rise by up to 70 per­cent. How much did they buy the for­eign cur­rency for on the par­al­lel mar­ket to jus­tify their prices? Peo­ple get money from the banks and they abuse the sys­tem and use the par­al­lel mar­ket to peg their prices.”

Widely used medicines like an­tibi­otics that sold for US$13 in Au­gust are now sell­ing for US$18. Cough syrups’ prices have risen from US$2,50 to as much as US$7. One blood pres­sure con­trol drug has gone up from US$15 to US$24.

Zim­babwe is im­port­ing the bulk of its medicines with drug-mak­ers NatPharm and CAPS Hold­ings op­er­at­ing at very low ca­pac­ity lev­els.

Dr Man­gundya

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