Lesotho to run out of ARVs

11 December 2019


LESOTHO could run out of life-saving antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs in the next six months.

The government is battling a serious financial squeeze which has now seen it fail to repair dialysis machines in hospitals triggering a state of panic in the health sector. Health Minister Nkaku Kabi stated yesterday that he had since dispatched a team of negotiators to India, Kuwait and Iran to compare prices so as to clinch the best deal for Lesotho. The minister said Iran, for example, can offer ARVs for free for five years while India is charging M30 million for a batch that would cover six months. 'I have not received a report yet on what they have found out,' he said.

He said the medication from January to June will cost the government a staggering M265 million. Kabi however said between now and June next year, they will be covered. 'Beyond that time we might have a challenge if we do not find solutions to this M260 million,' he said. He said his ministry operates under a tight budget on that medication. 'We do not owe anyone, it's just that we have a shortage,' he said.

Kabi said the shortage was caused by the fact that their budget included ARVs, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and a syrup that is used by babies so that their parents do not infect them. 'Our budget then went up more than expected,' Kabi said.

He said the Finance Ministry then did not give them enough money during the budget to cover their expenses. Kabi said the Global Fund gave them M80 million which was enough to cover for the ARVs but they were a bit expensive where they were buying. The Minister admitted that the dialysis machines had broken down adding the matter was very painful to them as it was a serious shortfall on their part. 'And it is a weakness that takes away people's lives where we are working,' he said.

He said the mechanic who services the machine was owed a balance of M19 000 after he did a service worth M40 000.  'I do not know why he was not paid the full amount,' he said.

Kabi also blamed the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) which he said had tampered with their machines while cleaning their facilities. When they went to the technician, he demanded that the ministry pay him the full amount before he could service the machines. Kabi said the mechanic blatantly refused to repair the machine before the outstanding balance could be settled saying he needed the money upfront. He said it took three months to process the payment and lives were lost during that standoff.

Kabi said the machines need to be serviced after every 12 months. 'I know that the mechanic came to repair the machine but I do not know if the machine is ready now,' he said. Kabi said the Ministry of Finance does not give the Ministry of Health any priority and treats it just like any other ministry. He said his ministry is a delicate ministry that deals with human lives.

However, an opposition party leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, is livid over the crisis in the health sector. Rakuoane, who leads the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), told parliament this week that the situation in hospitals had reached crisis levels. 'There is no medication and some people are even sharing bottles (of medication),' Rakuoane said.

He said even high blood pressure medication is failing to reach clinics in the villages on time, creating a crisis in the health sector. Rakuoane's attempts to get Parliament to discuss the 'health emergency' failed after the Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, shot down the motion saying it was not urgent. Motanyane said Rakuoane should raise the matter during an ordinary question time.

Rakuooane said the government was now drowning in a debt of close to M300 million for the antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs. He said drug suppliers were not paid for half of this year by the government. In an interview on Tuesday, Rakuoane said it was scandalous that ministers can squander M200 million on international trips when hospitals were struggling to provide critical drugs.

He said people are dying while government officials are busy boarding planes going overseas for fun. He was also not happy with how Motanyane had handled his request to have the matter discussed in Parliament. 'I do not think he is doing his work correctly,' Advocate Rakuoane said.