by Yokany Oliveira

THE Namibia Oncology Centre (NOC) says it has been forced to stop the treatment of some of their patients as they await stock from South Africa amid border restrictions.

The private healthcare centre is the biggest facility in Namibia specialising in the treatment of cancer patients.

NOC general manager Anthea van Wyk last week confirmed the centre is facing challenges due to the delay of some chronic medication.

“Unfortunately, we have been experiencing a severe shortage of certain medicines since the lockdown was implemented in South Africa,” Van Wyk said.

She said half of the oncology centre’s patients are affected by the delay, and urged the government to prioritise the importation of chronic medication in both the public and private sector.

“This is an unprecedented crisis affecting every single Namibian and needs to be resolved with the utmost urgency. Urgent intervention is needed from the highest level of government,” she said.

Van Wyk said the NOC does not purchase the centre’s medicines directly from suppliers, but through wholesalers in Namibia.

“I understand from our wholesalers they are currently out of stock of 50% of their product lines, which is an unprecedented shortage and affects not only our patients,” she said.

The son of a stomach cancer patient, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says his mother (58), a patient at the NOC, usually visits the oncology centre for treatment.

He says she also struggles with high blood pressure.

“My mother called me again to inform me the high blood pressure medication has run out. I’m getting worried because I don’t want her to get worse,” he says, adding she takes high blood pressure medicine in addition to her cancer treatment.

He is worried that if she goes untreated for a long time, the rare cancer she was diagnosed with will get more aggressive.

“She is already complaining of stomach ache,” he says.

State patients are also affected by border restrictions.

Van Wyk said all Namibians are affected by this crisis, because medicine used to treat diabetes, hypertension and many other chronic diseases are no longer available.

Although The Namibian has written about the chronic medicine shortage before, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.

Windhoek-based cardiologist Dr Simon Beshir, who also treats state patients, says if cardiac patients cannot get their essential medication such as blood thinners or medication for hypertension, they may suffer dire consequences.

“This is extremely serious. This issue needs to be solved urgently, perhaps on the highest levels of government,” he says.

Beshir says Covid-19 mitigation measures such as lockdowns, travel bans and disrupted supply chains will probably be responsible for a number of deaths.

“In some countries, the consequences of these restrictions may be more serious than Covid-19 itself,” he says.

Beshir is also concerned about state cardiac patients due to shortages in both human and medical equipment resources.

EXPORT PERMITS

Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula told The Namibian last week there would be some challenges to get medical supplies from South Africa due to cross-border regulations.

South African news broadcaster eNCA last Friday reported that the South African government on 27 March introduced Covid-19 export control regulations to ensure that country’s local market has sufficient supplies prior to exporting to neighbouring countries.

The International Trade Administration Commission (Itac), a South African entity under that country’s trade ministry, is responsible for facilitating export permits.

A notice on Itac’s official website said it is receiving a “large number of queries and applications”, including applications from Namibia, and the processing time for applications varies, but is currently five to ten days.

This has also affected the NOC.

In order to import medicine into Namibia, Van Wyk said the manufacturers thereof needed to apply for an Itac permit, and this process was causing severe delays in importing medicine.

She said when the lockdown was implemented in South Africa, they halted the exportation of certain goods, including medication, to Namibia.

The NOC was eventually able to get most of the medicine they had ordered.

“I understand this situation has been resolved, however, there are new challenges with regards to the releasing of medicine for export to other countries, as SARS [South African Revenue Service] is now requiring additional paperwork to be processed, and this causes even longer delays than those we experienced when the Itac permits were required,” Van Wyk said.

NOC pharmacists approached the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Ministry of Finance as well as representatives from other healthcare facilities, including pharmacies and hospitals, to resolve the situation.

Van Wyk said they have not been provided with a clear timeline, “but we will continue our efforts until this crisis is resolved”.

Finance spokesperson Tonateni Shidhudhu said the ministry is fully aware of the delay in supplying medicines to Namibia.

“The matter was brought to our attention by the Chairperson of the Health industry Forum where she requested for our intervention,” he said.

Shidhudhu said the problem is not with our customs but on the side of South Africa because of the new regulations by SARS which requires distributors of medicines and certain identified items to apply for a permit from Itac to export medicines to other neighboring countries.

“As a Ministry, we are taking this matter very serious, we are currently engaging SARS to find an amicable solutions,” he said.

Efforts to obtain comment from the executive director of health, Ben Nangombe, proved futile.

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