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Shortage of Essential Medicines Looms in Uganda

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The development comes amid border closures announced across the world as one of the measures to forestall the spread of COVID-19. Dr Samuel Opio, the Secretary-General of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda says it is inevitable for Uganda to suffer a shortage of drugs since 90 per cent of all the drugs used in the country are imported.
According to pharmacists, shortages of antibiotics like azithromycin are already being seen

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Uganda is facing a looming shortage of essential medicines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists across Kampala say that the country is already facing a shortage of drugs for the treatment of chronic illnesses like asthma and diabetes, among others.

The development comes amid border closures announced across the world as one of the measures to forestall the spread of COVID-19. Dr Samuel Opio, the Secretary-General of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda says it is inevitable for Uganda to suffer a shortage of drugs since 90 per cent of all the drugs used in the country are imported.

“We are already experiencing a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment. The next is going to be a shortage of drugs. We are already getting reports that some essential drugs like metformin used by people with type diabetes are no longer easily accessible,” Dr Opio said.

He attributes the ongoing shortage of drugs to the re-exportation of drugs to other countries like Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan yet the country does not have enough to make sure that Ugandans are covered.

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Dr Bildard Baguma, the executive director of Joint Medical Stores says that the shortage of drugs in not going to be only felt in Uganda but across the world. He says the suspension of exportation of drugs is going to hurt Uganda because we highly depend on medicine imported from India, yet the country has stopped the export of some drugs.

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Last week, India banned the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines that are manufactured in the country. Paracetamol or Panadol and hdryochloroquine are some of the drugs that cannot be exported from the country. 

Dr Baguma adds that people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and diabetes are likely to suffer the brunt of the disease since most of them is ordered in a small portion.

“People with chronic illnesses like HIV and TB might not have a problem because their drugs are normally procured in bulk for a long period of time but for other diseases like asthma and even diabetes, the shortage of medicine will be felt,” Dr Baguma said.

Dr Opio adds that the government needs to assess what volumes we have both in the private and government sector to better plan for the future. He says in the current situation where it is hard to predict when ongoing lockdowns will be stopped, is important to regulate what is exported.

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URN visited a number of pharmacies around Ntinda and Wandegeya and discovered that the shelves of some pharmacies have nothing on display. Ashraf Muwonge, a pharmacist at Ecopharm told URN they are having problems accessing drugs from distributors.

“We do not have drugs. Right now we have run out of stock for deworming tablets and some types of Panadol. We even do not have some medicine for conditions like diabetes and asthma,” Muwonge said.

According to Muwonge, the drug distributors that they normally use say they do not have some drugs. Those that have drugs say they cannot deliver the drugs. 

Ruth Nambiyo, a pharmacist at First Pharmacy says they are running low on drugs that have high demands. “At the moment, we do not have drugs like antidepressants or even antimalarials such as Plaquenil. We do not have these drugs. We are also running low on azithromycin,” she said.

Swarma Garikapati, the manager of Abacus pharmaceuticals- a company that distributes drugs says that pharmacies are facing shortages of drugs due to transport logistics that are proving to be tricky for some people during the lock down.

“Because cars are not able to move, we cannot deliver drugs to pharmacies but also pharmacies cannot pick drugs from us. So we have now resorted to supplying hospitals with drugs because most of them have stickers that can move and as such can pick up their drugs themselves. We are no longer selling medicine to pharmacies,” she said.

Elsewhere in the world like Europe where there are high numbers of COVID-19 cases, medicines mostly used in Intensive Care Units-ICU like anaesthetics, antibiotics and muscle relaxants are running low and hospitals have been stock piling medications as not to run dry.

Drugs needed for ventilation of patients such as neuromuscular blockers and sedatives like albuterol, fentanyl, midazolam and propofol are not easily available. Drug shortages are being experienced as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increase. As of April 8, 2020, the number of infected persons had risen to over 1.4 million people.  

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