Crisis? What crisis?
The health minister says there are enough medical supplies at the ministry's central store, while officials blame a new procurement system for delivery delays.
07 December 2017 | Health
Health minister Bernard Haufiku yesterday assured the public that there is stock at the medical store. This came after doctors recently decried a shortage of medical supplies at several state hospitals.
Officials in the health ministry blame delays and shortages on the introduction of the Procurement Act earlier this year.
Just last week the Central Procurement Board delayed yet another tender for medical supplies. The tender was for a year's supply of antiretroviral medicine. The closing date was originally set for 22 November and was extended to 17 January 2018.
Management at the medical store pointed out that although they could buy short-term supplies, it would cost much more.
Currently there are no long-term contracts in place with suppliers of medical supplies and the expectation is that contracts will only be set up by next year June. Long-term contracts are essential because a supplier can decide to cancel an order should another client place a larger order.
According to the deputy director of pharmaceutical supplies, Lazarus Ndongo, the medical store has never been completely empty.
Ndongo has been working at the ministry for 23 years and according to him the change in the Procurement Act caused huge problems at the Central Medical Store.
The new public procurement system regulates the government's procurement of goods, works and services. This means that procurement from any government entity has to go through a committee where it has to justify its needs so as to curb overspending.
The process has caused delays in the acquisition of medical supplies because the process is not in sync with the needs in hospitals.
Under the new Public Procurement Act, all tenders above N$35 million must be awarded through the Central Procurement Board.
“We are receiving stock as we are speaking and as it comes in it goes out into the Receivable Bay to the warehouses where it is then taken to the hospitals,” said Ndongo.
He explained that there was stock available at the medical store although shortages of some items had been experienced recently.
“If we do not have particular items they have to be ordered, but we can also offer alternatives to hospitals if they choose this.
“There is no crisis. There was no mass shortage of medical supplies. Some items we had and others not. These had to be ordered,” he said.
The procurement pharmacist at the facility, Fabiola Vahakeni, explained that the duration of the availability of stock varies.
According to her there are 1 200 items that are kept at the Central Medical Store. “The essentials are in place.”
According to Ndongo another problem is a staff shortage and because of cost-cutting the ministry could not appoint any new staff. Currently there are 58 employees working at the medical store and there are 12 vacant positions.
He further said that enough supplies had been ordered for the December period.
“Some suppliers are closing during this time so we had to make sure that there is enough stock during this time.”
Meanwhile, another director at the health ministry, Axel Tibinyane, said everything was working the same as before at the medical store.
“The only thing that has changed is the Procurement Act.”
He said the transitioning to the new Act was not managed well.
“The only reason why it is coming out here and not at other ministries is because it is impacting the lives of people. We are now coming to grips.”
Tibinyane said before the new central procurement system was introduced in April this year the health ministry had received exemption to procure certain items without tenders. Under the new law there is no exemption.
He said the new structures that had to be put in place in terms of the new Act, such as the procurement committee, caused a lot of delay.
“It was new people that did not know the Act, new procedures that people did not know, and it caused delays. This transition has caused a lot of disruption. We are getting there, but unfortunately it has impacted the people.
“Now we are making sure whenever there is not stock, we can at least keep the stock at a certain level and we are also trying to get contracts in place working together with the Central Procurement Board so the contracts are there so we do not need to keep asking for quotations, if the contracts are there, you have security of supply in the long term. But we have another bigger project to overhaul the supply chain management, that will take us another year.”
Namibia makes up a very small part of the world pharmaceutical market. South Africa makes up 2% of the pharmaceutical market and Namibia accounts for only 2% of South Africa's market.
Some of the medical supplies take six months to manufacture and therefore must be ordered in advance. Products are ordered internationally from places such as India and then have to be transported via South Africa.
One consultant explained the process by saying people should think of it as a pipeline running from India via South Africa to Namibia with a tap dripping in Namibia. “Then somebody closes that tap in April (when the new law was introduced) and it is suddenly empty.”