The Sunday Mail
IN Italy, it is not illegal drug traffickers that the police are after anymore, but pushers of masks and sanitisers.
Could Zimbabwe find itself in a similar situation?
A survey by this publication in Harare last week revealed that most pharmacies did not have masks in stock while those that did had priced them exorbitantly.
In one pharmacy, three-ply masks were going for US$5 or the equivalent in local currency using black market rates, while the more advanced N95 respirators were out of stock in all the pharmacies visited.
Another pharmacy was expecting delivery of N95 respirators but had no price for them, with the cashiers pointing out that the price changed with every new consignment.
Sanitisers ranged between $400 and US$25 per one-litre bottle in different pharmacies.
The smallest containers of sanitisers — a 50-millilitre bottle — averaged US$3.
Online research revealed that in South Africa, dust masks were retailing for R3 before the coronavirus outbreak, but they now cost between R45 and R150.
The N95 masks, which were going for between R70 and R100, now cost between R1500 and R2 000.
The high-end N95 is highly sought-after as it can prevent users from contracting airborne diseases by up to 95 percent.
“We are making a killing out of coronavirus,” said a manager with a local pharmacy chain, anonymously.
“Most of our medical sundries which include face masks are from China. Industries have been closed for over two months there, so this has caused shortages the world over.
“For instance, the company I work for gets its stuff from a big manufacturer (name withheld) of medical sundries and it is closed because of coronavirus.”
He said most masks and other protective clothing were not for permanent use.
Even tissues are in high demand in other countries like the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. One company in the UK that normally sells 24 million rolls a fortnight sold 63 million in days.
While the general populace requires gloves, masks and sanitisers, it is the health practitioners that need the protective gear the most.
“Doctors and nurses are at risk because of this shortage of medical sundries. Even if someone wanted to buy in order to give them, our wholesalers do not have them. As for the hand sanitisers and gloves, those are just for hygiene just like what happened when we had the cholera outbreak.
“And because the media has been campaigning heavily around hygiene issues, everyone is trying to buy them. The sanitisers are different though. We have the ordinary types and then those with at least 60 percent alcohol, which are the most effective,” said a pharmacist, who operates in Harare’s Central Business District.
We are stocked up: NatPharm
The National Pharmaceutical Company (NatPharm) insists it has a steady supply of coronavirus supportive medicines and protective material.
This comes amid fears of a global shortage of surgical masks, hand sanitisers and respirators due to the sudden surge in demand for the products.
The coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), requires extreme hand and respiratory hygiene as a preventive measure.
Zimbabwe currently imports an estimated 80 percent of its medical supplies.
About 60 percent of the imported medical supplies come from India, while the rest are procured from South Africa, Germany and the United States.
NatPharm managing director Ms Florence Sifeko told The Sunday Mail that the country’s suppliers had assured Zimbabwe of enough supplies of supportive medicines for coronavirus, as well as protective materials.
“At NatPharm, we are only told to order specific materials by the Ministry (of Health and Child Care), which has its own experts who advise it on what should be procured,” she said.
Ms Sifeko said Treasury has been disbursing funds for the procurement of medicines on a regular basis.
She said NatPharm now has framework tenders with its supplies, which allow for easy procurement without delays.
“We had outstanding tenders, and the Ministry of Health and Child Care has been getting us the funds we need from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. We procure as soon as we get the money. It is difficult to say what we currently have in our stocks because we are quickly disposing all supplies to hospitals as they come,” she said.
Jack Ma, WHO, China to the rescue
President Mnangagwa on Thursday launched the Covid-19 preparedness plan, which saw Government unlocking US$26 million to fight the fast-spreading and deadly virus.
This domestic plan, which has been hailed by Russia, China and WHO, will be augmented with more supplies from the Jack Ma Foundation, China and other partners.
WHO expressed confidence in Zimbabwe’s readiness.
In an interview with the Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN), WHO Country Representative Dr Alex Gasasira said Zimbabwe had received all necessary support from international partners to enable it to identify and contain the virus.
“We have been working very closely with the Government, we have supported them to come up with a national preparedness and response plan that is in line with the global guidance that has been given to all countries.
“We have also supported by providing some materials that health facilities need such as personal protective materials, provision of lab supplies to ensure that Zimbabwe has the capacity to do the tests in the country thereby shortening the time of confirmation,” he said.
Dr Gasasira urged locals to practise hand and respiratory hygiene as well as social distancing, while emphasising that no researches have yet confirmed that certain races are more susceptible to the virus than others.
Private sector chips in
Hand sanitisers are being manufactured locally and the President last week said he expected the private sector to follow Government’s example in creating a safe working environment through screening.
A local company, Innovate Industrial Safety Solutions, has offered to help with technical know-how on how to use protective masks, clothing and sanitisers correctly.
“Around the world many health professionals are dying due to this deadly virus. It is not because they are careless or irresponsible but most of these people have no knowledge on how to safely use these items,” said Agnes Ruwona, the company’s sales and marketing manager.
The company says it is prepared to partner the Government through training and provision of protective health gear, which is being used as a precautionary measure to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.