Donors, Malawi ignore local drug suppliers

Malawi Government and Unicef have defended the move to ignore local drug suppliers and instead import medical drugs for the next 18 months, saying the suppliers sometimes compromise quality and deadlines.

Some local pharmaceutical companies have cried foul over the purchase of basic drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin from abroad.

The companies were reacting to the K5.4 billion ($32.3 million) joint Development Partner Emergency Drug Procurement Project funded by the governments of Britain, Germany and Norway and implemented by Unicef and Usaid together with the Malawi Government, Central Medical Stores (CMS) and the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham).

“That is killing the local industry. How shall we survive for the next 18 months?” queried the local pharmaceutical supplier who was supported by another in a different interview.

But Unicef’s communication officer Kusali Kubwalo defended the move in an email response on Tuesday.

“Much as local suppliers might be able to provide paracetamol or other selected drugs, they would not be able to provide the other 36 items on the list together in one kit. Furthermore, before considering local capacity, the quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs available

locally would have to be verified, all of which would have taken a substantially longer lead time, resulting in more lives being lost.”

Kubwalo said Unicef’s long experience in procurement of pharmaceutical products globally gives them good leverage in obtaining competitive prices and quick delivery.

But she said Unicef believes in strengthening local capacities hence the support to the Malawi government through CMS.

“The nature of this procurement is an emergency one and key to its success is the ability not only to deliver the different essential medicines required but also to do it fast and in the form of a pre-packed kit. It is a key feature of the project that these drugs are being pre-packaged into standard kits, as this approach will simplify the in-country supply chain, and will ensure that all primary health centres in Malawi receive quickly the critical amount of the essential medicines needed based on the best available data,” she said.

With the pre-packed kit arrangement, Kubwalo said, it would not have been possible to find, in such short notice, a local supplier with the ability to manufacture or source all the drugs required, with specifications that could comply with Unicef’s global technical requirements, and pre-pack them into kits that would specifically address the needs of primary health-care facilities in Malawi.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Henry Chimbali said on Friday the ministry had received a letter of complaint from the local suppliers.

“Some of the concerns are valid. We are discussing within the ministry and beyond to see how we can address some of these issues. However, procurement of drugs by CMS will continue besides the current donor arrangement.

“This means local suppliers still have the opportunity to supply drugs as before. They need not despair nor feel sidelined,” he said.

But reacting to issues of quality and deadlines, one of the local pharmaceutical company director said the local suppliers have lots of aspirin and paracetamol which is readily available.

On quality he said, “What are they talking about? Where has Unicef bought those drugs? Those drugs have not even been inspected by the Medicines and Poisons Board.”

Some local pharmaceutical companies in the country include Malawi Pharmacies Limited, Southern Africa Druggists Malawi Limited (Sadm), Worldwide Pharmaceuticals, Intermed, Mediworld and Sonali Pharamaceuticals.

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