HEALTH UPDATE … Namibia still has 31 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 17 recoveries and one patient still in intensive care, but stable. A health official this morning said Namibia has tested over 5 000 people, with over 200 tested on Thursday alone.

AVAILABILITY OF MEDS … Panellists at the Covid-19 communication centre are discussing the availability and affordability of pharmaceutical products and services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This morning’s speakers are Uli Ritter of the Pharmaceutical Society of Namibia, Seija Nakamhela, chief pharmacist at the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Elina Veijo, wholesale representative, and Tracy Makoni, pharmacy owner.

Ritter said the pharmaceutical industry was not affected by the shutdown like other industries, but there were delays in medication reaching the country.

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He said with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, neighbouring countries put regulations on the export of essential medicine in place.

“This led to a severe delay in medicine reaching our country, and there was a severe shortage. The supply chain is now longer compared to before,” he said.

Veijo said Namibia is a net importer and her sector was largely affected by the shutdown.

Speaking from a private sector perspective, she said South Africa’s restrictions has led to a severe shortage of essential medication.

Nakamhela said Covid-19 has interrupted the supply of medicine and the process of ordering medication has become drawn-out.

Speaking from a wholesaler perspective, Makoni said pharmacies and their staff should also be celebrated as frontline workers.

She said the shortages in medicine has brought the industry together to try and meet the demand.

“The supply chain has been disrupted, but we are communicating among ourselves to best deal with this,” she said.

Ritter said Covid-19 has upset the supply chain and exposed bureaucracies in the countries Namibia imports from.

He said from an international perspective, the way countries like South Africa are obstructing imports is unethical.

“We approached the relevant authorities, and South Africa relaxed some of their regulations,” he said.

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Nakamhela said not all contraceptives are unavailable, and the Ministry of Health and Social Services has put in orders, but Covid-19 is affecting imports.

She said as more countries are opening up, more stock is received.

Chronic medication is also coming in, despite declared shortages, Nakamhela said.

Makoni said Namibia has the ability to manufacture its own medication, adding there are enough manufacturers, but they are not recognised or supported financially.

“The time is now for Namibia to produce its own,” she said.

Ritter said given severe shortages, the industry has now opted to produce medication for individual need.

He said the industry can indeed manufacture certain medications.

Veijo said as a result of Covid-19, importers will pay high prices for medication.

She said Namibia imports from abroad, and medicine reaches the country through South Africa.

Makoni said Covid-19 calls for people to be creative and form collectives to overcome the challenges faced.

She said cost-effectiveness in the pharmaceutical industry is key, and pharmacists want to be recognised and involved in policymaking.

Veijo said the pharmaceutical industry needs guidance and support in setting up facilities for local production.

Nakamhela said as the country opens up, the Ministry of Health and Social Services expects stock to arrive.

She said the Southern African Development Community should support the manufacturing of medicine for the entire region.

Ritter said the government should support the infant industry – not just verbally but also physically.

He said if the government is serious about supporting the industry, there is a need for international investment, and to make Namibia attractive.

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