Families panic over anti-psychotic drugs

Regional health directors for Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati all confirmed the anti-psychotic drug shortage to Namibian Sun, while family members of those who are supposed to take the medication are in a panic.

09 September 2020 | Health



Namibia is experiencing a nationwide shortage of anti-psychotic medication, and although in the past patients resorted to private pharmacies, they are also running out.

The medicines that have been in short supply for close to three months include the anti-psychotics Chlorpromazine, Risperidone, Haloperidol and Sulpiride.

Olanzapine has been out of stock for a month, but a consignment was received by the Central Medical Store last Friday.

Clozapine oral medication is also out of stock, but an injectable substitute is still available.

In Namibia, over 26 000 patients were treated for mental illnesses in 2015.

Statistics from the health ministry from 2016 show that more than 9 000 people in Namibia had schizophrenia.

The drug shortage has resulted in panic among some families who have called Namibian Sun to find out what the other options could be. Stock-outs may be a blow to those already suffering from mental illness and their families. As the health department sources alternative drug suppliers, doctors may be forced to make tough decisions.

But Dr Benonia Sheetekela at the Oshakati psychiatric department said there is hope. For injectable treatments, the Oshakati State Hospital uses Modecate and Fluanxol, but for now, the hospital has resorted to using Modecate only for some of their patients who relapse, Sheetekela said.

Regional health directors for Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati all confirmed the shortage to Namibian Sun last week, saying that it is a cause for concern.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula also confirmed the shortage and added that most medicine deliveries, inclusive of the anti-psychotics, are affected by the Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Sheetekela said the Oshakati psychiatric department has a capacity of 70 beds. In August, the hospital admitted 71 patients, but for the past weeks the numbers have been decreasing. By yesterday, the hospital had 43 inpatients.

“We expected lots of patients to relapse because of the shortage but most of them came for follow-ups and we started combining earlier; it looks like it's working,” she said.

Temporary solutions

Sheetekela said families should bring the patients in early before they relapse, as injectable drugs take longer to get the desired results compared to oral medication. She also strongly warned against stigmatising mental health patients. She encourages families not to judge, raise their voices or get irritated when they communicate with their relatives.

“Speak to the patients in a tone you would use with any sane person. They are like us and they have an explanation for whatever they do. Just listen.

“Also, injections don't make people permanently mentally ill. When you are diagnosed, you have it and you need medication. Injections help you with adherence. It treats exactly as the oral,” Sheetekela stressed.

She also indicated that they refer patients with medical aid coverage to private pharmacies.

“Although they are not supposed to buy, I encourage people with the means to please do so,” she said. Alternatively, for people who have no other means, they give them injections.

Shangula said some of the medicines at the ministry are sourced from overseas, especially from India, and are transported by air or sea.

“Because of the emergencies that came about due to coronavirus lockdowns, after the opening of the airports, most suppliers are trying to bring in stock via air, but because of the backlog that resulted from the lockdown of the airports, the available cargo planes are not able to assist all customers at once, and hence the delay in the deliveries of medicines,” he said.

The fact that many airlines are unable to operate has also limited the availability of cargo planes to transport the goods. Some stock used to be delivered by air at Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA), but since most planes are not allowed to land at HKIA, the stock is delivered at Oliver Tambo (OR) International Airport in South Africa and then transported to Windhoek by road. That adds another three days' delay.

Shangula said most anti-psychotic medicines are expected to be available at the Central Medical Store towards the end of this week.

“The ministry is trying its level best to get all medicines, including the

anti-psychotics, available in the country. The ministry is trying to seek if there is a supplier with readily available stock in the country to assist in emergency cases,” he said.

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