AS Minister of Health Jonas Chanda finds his feet in his new role, we are glad that he is setting the right tone in so far as some of the persistent challenges in the health sector are concerned.
Yesterday, when he met health workers at the University Teaching Hospitals, during his continued familiarisation tour of the Ministry of Health, he sternly warned against health workers in the habit of stealing drugs from public health facilities.
He made it clear that those found wanting will not only be fired but will also be arrested and prosecuted.
For a long time the health sector has suffered serious setbacks due to pilferage of drugs by health workers.
Some health workers are in the habit of ransacking pharmacies in public health facilities to stock their private pharmacies dotted in townships.
This has relegated many public health facilities to mere dispensers of prescriptions.
This is because more often than not, people who seek health services from public health facilities end up being served with prescriptions for them to buy these medicines from private pharmacies.
Some medical personnel in these public health institutions have always claimed they lack certain drugs and patients have to buy these for themselves.
Sometimes patients have walked away from these health institutions with basic drugs like the common painkiller Panadol and cough mixture.
If anything, some people visit these public health facilities for the sole purpose of being diagnosed to be able to buy the right medication.
We know that Government has put a premium on the health sector. Despite limited resources amid so many competing needs, Government endeavours to allocate more funding to the health sector. In the 2021 budget, health was allocated 9.7 billion, which translates to 8.1 percent of the total budget.
Of the 9.7 billion, 1.3 billion has been allocated for procurement of medical supplies and drugs.
In as much as we know that the population has grown exponentially, the amount allocated should go a long way in ensuring availability of drugs in health facilities.
However, the erratic availability experienced in some hospitals cannot all be attributed to inadequate resources. Rampant pilferage is a factor too.
As long as the vice of pilfering drugs and medical supplies from public health facilities is not curtailed, access to quality health care will continue to be a far-fetched dream, especially among the poor.
Needless to say, medical supplies and drugs play a critical role in the provision of curative and preventative services, hence the need to ensure their availability at all times.
Pilfering of drugs from public health institutions is not only a mere act of theft but inhuman as it puts the lives of patients at risk.
It deprives the many poor Zambians, who cannot afford the cost of drugs in private pharmacies, of a chance to sustain their lives and to contribute to the development of the country.
The minister should follow through and hold accountable all those in whose custody medical supplies and drugs are placed.
Those who choose to go against the law to steal drugs must be visited by the long arm of the law. No one should be spared if a strong deterrent message is to be sent across.
It is good that the minister has also rejected, outright, a proposal by some private institutions to set up pharmacies at the University Teaching Hospitals. Such encourage pilferage of drugs.
There is need for the ministry and all stakeholders to work together to seal all the loopholes in the procurement and distribution of drugs to ensure that Zambians get optimal benefits from the budgetary allocation on medical supplies.
We also appeal to the conscience of our medical personnel to desist from sending people they are entrusted to care for to an early grave due to pilferage of drugs.
Above all, we are hopeful that with the right tone set, pilferage of drugs and many other challenges faced by the health sector will be dealt with resolutely.