Tuesday July 23, 2019

Zimbabwe Faces Shortage of Antiretroviral Drugs

Chiedza Chiwashira is one the HIV-positive inmates. The 18-year-old says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the shortage of other drugs is

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zimbabwe, HIV, antiretroviral drugs
Chiedza Chiwashira, one the HIV-positive inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison hospital, in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 13, 2019, says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the 18-year-old says the shortage of drugs for opportunistic drugs is a problem. VOA

A top UNAIDS official is in Zimbabwe as the country faces a moderate shortage of the anti-retroviral drugs that stop the progress of the disease. The situation is bad for HIV-positive Zimbabweans, but worse for prisoners living with the virus who say they are struggling to get treatment for opportunistic infections.

Zimbabwe’s maximum security prison is overcrowded, officials say, and that is putting a strain on resources, including medicines for inmates who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Chiedza Chiwashira is one the HIV-positive inmates. The 18-year-old says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the shortage of other drugs is.

“Even painkillers we do not have. So if those kids, children of inmates, fall sick there is nothing to give them. Officials are saying things are tough out there so there is nothing they can do. At least we have cotrimoxazole and other ARVs. But if we fall sick it will be a problem. We appeal to those at home or those who can help us with medical drugs and antibiotics as the prison hospital has just ARVs,” Chiwashira said.

Dr. Blessing Dhorobha, the head of the Chikurubi Maximum Prison hospital, says the National Pharmaceutical Company is keeping the facility supplied with ARV drugs for now, but acknowledges other drugs are a problem.

“In terms of other opportunistic infections; pneumonia, meningitis, we are in short supply of those drugs such anti-hypertensives, anti-diabetics,” he said. “We are normally supplied by NatPharm. If they do not have stocks, then they do not deliver.”

antiretroviral drugs, zimbabwe
Shannon Hader, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, talks to senior Zimbabwe Prisons Services at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 13, 2019. VOA

Shannon Hader, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said she came to Zimbabwe to see how it is helping vulnerable groups such as prison inmates and sex workers.

Hader says Zimbabwe has a good track record on AIDS, noting that the country introduced a tax to help patients, known as the AIDS levy, back in the 1990s.

However, “… what got us to this point in response won’t necessarily get us to the next level because what’s left to do might be more complicated than what we did first,” she said. “So I think Zimbabwe has the capacity to really accelerate, to meet the 2020 goals to be a model of the response. But that will take doubling in the next 18 months, and filling some of these gaps particularly with people that are often left behind.”

antiretroviral drugs
Raymond Yekeye, the head of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, blames the shortage of medications on Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of foreign currency. VOA

Raymond Yekeye, the head of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, blames the shortage of medications on Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of foreign currency.

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“We do have the AIDS Levy and it is sufficient to cover the gap that we require. But we have not accessed the foreign currency that we require to import the medicines,” he said. The lack of foreign currency has also made the country unable to import basic needs like food and fuel.

Earlier this week, the country’s health minister said Harare has begun receiving drugs from countries such as India, which donated drugs worth $250,000. That might ease the problem of shortages for prisoners with HIV, who can’t work to buy medicine on their own. (VOA)

Next Story

Zimbabwe Ends Its Interim Currency in New Currency Reform

This move is really beginning to restore full monetary policy

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Zimbabwe, Currency, Reform
FILE - People walk past the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe building in Harare, Zimbabwe, Feb. 25, 2019. VOA

Zimbabwe made its interim currency the country’s sole legal tender on Monday, ending a decade of dollarization and taking a another step towards relaunching the Zimbabwean dollar.

The central bank also hiked its overnight lending rate to 50% from 15% as a part of a set of measures to protect the RTGS dollar introduced in February.

“The march towards full currency reform is part of our transitional stabilization program,” Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in a video posted on Twitter. “This move is really beginning to restore full monetary
policy.”

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced longtime leader Robert Mugabe after an army coup in November 2017, is trying to repair an economy ruined by hyperinflation and a long succession of failed economic interventions.

Zimbabwe, Currency, Reform
Zimbabwe made its interim currency the country’s sole legal tender on Monday. Pixabay

But a hoped-for economic turnaround is yet to materialize, and many Zimbabweans are distrustful of Mnangagwa’s promises.

Mnangagwa’s government last month agreed a staff-monitored program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) whereby the fund will help Zimbabwe implement coherent economic policies.

Analysts are skeptical that the latest currency reforms will be a quick fix for the deep problems that have constrained economic growth in the southern African country.

“Zimbabwe will have to show results before people are convinced,” said Jee-A Van Der Linde, an economist at South Africa-based NKC African Economics.

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Van Der Linde said banning the use of currencies such as the U.S. dollar and South African rand could create panic since Zimbabwe did not have large foreign-currency reserves to back the RTGS dollar.

There was nothing standing in the way of the Zimbabwean central bank printing money as it had done in the past, he added.

The central bank said in a statement on Monday that it had put in place letters of credit worth $330 million to secure imports for important goods such as fuel.

It would also try to boost liquidity on the interbank forex market by removing a cap on margins for banks and making sure that more than 50% of the foreign currency that Zimbabwean companies have to surrender ends up on the interbank market.

Zimbabwe, Currency, Reform
The central bank also hiked its overnight lending rate to 50% from 15% as a part of a set of measures. Pixabay

Zimbabwe abandoned its own dollar in 2009 after years of hyperinflation had destroyed trust in the local unit.

Mnangagwa said this month that Zimbabwe must reintroduce its own currency by the end of the year.

The IMF has said Zimbabwe should quickly allow the RTGS dollar to float freely, allow exporters to sell dollars at the interbank rate rather than surrender them to the central bank, and raise interest rates to curb inflation.

The RTGS dollar has been hitting new lows on the black market in recent days.

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It was trading between 11 and 12 against the U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Monday versus a level of around 6 on the official interbank market.

Many Zimbabweans complain that goods and services are still priced in other currencies.

While more than 80% of Zimbabweans earn RTGS dollars, goods ranging from bricks to groceries have their prices pegged in U.S. dollars.

Inflation raced to 97.85% in May, eroding salaries and savings and causing Zimbabweans to fear a return to the hyperinflation era a decade ago. (VOA)