NO END IN SIGHT FOR DRUG CRISIS FACING ESWATINI

This week the country woke up to a first of its kind protest by patients in various hospitals demanding an end of the drug shortage problems. Angered by broken promises and cancelled treatments, the patients demanded immediate action from the authorities to address the crisis.

We are not going anywhere until the hospital administration addresses us,” cried one of the desperate patients as the problem of drug shortage was acute. As tensions rose, police were dispatched to restore calm and maintain order. The situation escalated when Minister Lizzie Nkosie arrived at the scene, promising to listen to the patients' concerns and find a resolution to the troubling issue.

The protests seem to have been a last ditch attempt to highlight the crisis and collapse of the health system in the country. The crisis shows itself up in the now frequent drug shortage in various hospitals. The health collapse is not just limited to drug shortage but rather to the overall administration of the health sector. With limited resources at their disposal, health workers are facing immense challenges in meeting the growing demands for treatment.

Nurses in various hospitals in the country complain that combined Contraceptive pills and TDF/3TC--a drug used for pre-exposure prophylaxis of HIV and for treating Hepatatis B-- expired on July 23 and there are no other badges around. 

The consequences are dire, as individuals who depend on timely medical assistance are left stranded and uncertain about their future well-being. According to a 2019 report by the now defunct New Frame, an online Magazine, there were at least five heavily understaffed government hospitals in the country and at least six health centres countrywide. Shortage of medicine has thus become routine.

For example, the frequently used antibiotic medications were not available for months four years ago while other medications like broad-spectrum antibiotic called fortified penicillin, plaster of Paris used to mould plaster cast to immobilise broken bones and catheters for draining urine from the bladder was in short supply for extended periods of time.

A year later, a majority of public health facilities were again hit by a shortage of 40 medical drugs which are used to treat a variety of diseases and infections. Most of the medicine was reported to be either out of stock or in short supply. These included antibiotics, cold mixtures, medication used to treat arthritis, fungus infection and painkillers. This week´s protest began early in the morning as frustration led patients to block the entrance of the government medical facility, effectively disrupting its operations.

In an effort to quell the protest, local law enforcement officers were quickly deployed, in an attempt to calm the agitated crowd and facilitate a dialogue with the patients. For weeks, patients had voiced their grievances about the scarcity of vital medications, which had severe consequences on their well-being and overall health. Minister Lizzie Nkosie had previously addressed this issue in a press conference where she assured citizens that the government had implemented effective measures to distribute drugs across medical facilities.

However, these promises proved to be empty words as patients recounted countless instances where they were promised medication and treatment, only to have those pledges broken due to drug shortages. During her visit to the scene, Minister Nkosie, recognizing the gravity of the situation, empathized with the patients and acknowledged their frustration.

She urged them to exercise patience, explaining that acquiring certain medical equipment and medications could be challenging, but assured them of the government's commitment to finding a solution. Emphasizing the difficulties faced by medical facilities, Minister Nkosie shed light on the complexities of the drug supply chain. She explained that shortages were not solely a result of bureaucratic mishaps, but rather a consequence of the global market dynamics and limited resources.

However, she assured patients that every effort would be made to increase the availability of essential drugs and to improve communication between medical facilities and patients. But the problem of drug shortage appears to be endemic dating back to 2006. Over a decade later, the problem rears its ugly head from time to time with no solution seemingly in sight.