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Gauteng Dept of Health in crisis mode - TAC

MEC Ntombi Mekgwe tells NGO 20% of drug stocks unavailable, NHLS is being paid

Gauteng Department of Health working in crisis mode

On 10 February 2010, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Gauteng met with the Gauteng MEC of Health, Ms Ntombi Mekgwe arising from the TAC demonstration of 12 December 2011 on the crisis facing the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and stock-outs of essential drugs and ARVs in some areas.

It was clear from the meeting that the Provincial Department is facing serious financial and management challenges and that the "crisis mode" of the department is not going to resolve the challenges in the long term, it might resolve it them now but it cannot be a mode of operation for a department as critical as health.

The MEC acknowledged that there have been challenges with the NHLS and delayed payments by the Department of Health (DoH). She said the Department did not stop paying the NHLS but that they have a payment schedule set to settle the bills. The DoH has already paid R920 million as of the 6 February 2012 and there is R600 million outstanding being disputed because the Department has invoices of R280 million, of which by 11th February 2012, they would have paid R100 million and R50 million will be paid by 15th Feb, thereby paying off the R1.1 billion bill.

On the drug stock outs in health facilities, the MEC highlighted that according to their investigation, there is 80% of available stock and 20% unavailable. Ms Mekgwe said that it might be possible that the essential drugs that are not available are on the 20% that is out of stock with a current R86 million set aside for ARVs. She mentioned that in some depots most medicines have expired and this is attributed to negligence. An instruction has been issued to sites where laboratories are closed to be opened and where there are drugs shortages to be stocked.

TAC was also informed that an amount of R1 billion has been approved by National Treasury. From that R1billion, R336 million has been set aside to pay for medical supplies and R86 million of the R336 million is set aside ARVs. R256 million will go towards food suppliers of which R28 million has already been paid to meat and milk suppliers. R100 million of the R256 million will go towards the payment of the NHLS.

TAC appreciates the efforts being made to sort the crisis out, especially the intervention of the National Department of Health and the Treasury, but feel that this is too little too late. Services have been compromised in many health facilities from what TAC believes is a situation that should have been dealt with way back. The consequences of this are delayed clinical diagnosis and management of patients. Where there has been ART drug stock out or patients either under or overdosed, lives of those people have been put at risk of resistance and possible adverse reactions which could be fatal in most instances.

It is still not clear what the long term strategy is to make sure that such a situation does not happen again in future and how the Department will be recovering money from other entities and provincial departments to pay back the Treasury.

TAC maintains its position, even after that meeting with the MEC, that matters should not have deteriorated to this level. It was made clear in that meeting that TAC has a responsibility of ensuring that essential services are not disrupted and will take whatever measures available to ensure that patients are not compromised, even if it means litigation.

TAC will continue monitoring these services in terms of availability of laboratory services and non-shutting down of labs; availability of essential drugs and ART and in instances where these are picked up, appropriate action will be taken.

Statement issued by Andrew Mosane, Treatment Action Campaign, February 10 2012

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