Pharmacies get forex headache

A medical aid card from a reputable insurer is the key to accessing quality healthcare, right? Wrong!

In recent weeks, many pharmacies in Zimbabwe have hiked drug prices by up to 70 percent — and they are rejecting medical aid cover and insisting on US dollar payments.

They also do not want bond notes or money transfers, saying the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is not prioritising allocation of foreign currency to them and so they need to find greenbacks for imported stock.n recent weeks, many pharmacies in Zimbabwe have hiked drug prices by up to 70 percent — and they are rejecting medical aid cover and insisting on US dollar payments.

According to an Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) media statement, “Some pharmacies are charging huge shortfalls, while some are insisting on cash payments in United States dollars and rejecting the medical aid card as well as other payment methods such as debit card, Ecocash or bond notes.

“AHFoZ is engaging the Retail Pharmacists Association (RPA) in an effort to resolve the problem. The RPA say it is engaging the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to seek allocation of foreign currency so that pharmacies can revert to previous prices. As an association, we are recommending that medical aid societies approach individual pharmacies to negotiate contracts for their members, in order to alleviate their suffering.”

Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director Ms Roselyn Siyachitema said medical drugs should be at the top of RBZ’s foreign currency priority list.

“We know that with the shortage of foreign currency the issue of priority is becoming a problem, but as we know anything to do with health should be the first priority,” she said.

“We are aware of the price hikes and we are going to look into the matter and investigate where prices have gone up and why. At the moment we have been seized with a similar case on basic commodities but we are going to look into it because the issue of health is important.”

A pharmacist who declined to be named for professional reasons said they were in a difficult situation.

“We are being called all sorts of names but people are not looking at all sides,” she said. “We did not arrive at this point by ourselves; the RBZ has not been allocating us foreign currency, which makes the situation difficult because where we buy stuff they want cash.

“So some of us are buying cash on the parallel market in order to import, a situation which then pushes our costs up. It must be understood that we are in business and we have put in huge investments. Honestly, before people start accusing us they should put things in context.”

But RBZ Governor Dr John Mangundya has trashed claims that pharmacies are not getting foreign currency.

Last week he said the central bank was reserving U$4 million weekly for pharmacies. Dr Mangundya said the amount equalled 40 percent of pharmacies’ forex requirements, with the 60 percent coming from banks.

“This country’s economy is not a huge economy, this is not justified at all. It is abuse of consumers and bad business practice,” he said.

“We need people to behave because there is no way prices of drugs can rise by up to 70 percent. How much did they buy the foreign currency for on the parallel market to justify their prices? People get money from the banks and they abuse the system and use the parallel market to peg their prices.”

Widely used medicines like antibiotics that sold for US$13 in August are now selling for US$18. Cough syrups’ prices have risen from US$2,50 to as much as US$7. One blood pressure control drug has gone up from US$15 to US$24.

Zimbabwe is importing the bulk of its medicines with drug-makers NatPharm and CAPS Holdings operating at very low capacity levels.

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