Minister Obadiah Moyo

Street pharmacies a nagging headache for officials

Andile Tshuma

STREET pharmacies have sprouted in Bulawayo and the Health and Child Care Ministry is having a torrid time dealing with the matter.

With most medical aid schemes demanding foreign currency, which most people do not have, many people now rely on drugs sold in the streets as pharmacies are now beyond their reach.

The drug peddlers have become mobile pharmacists and almost any drug, over the counter or prescribed, can be found from them.

You find them milling near some of the city’s pharmacies. As you make your way into the chemist, they ask what kind of drugs you are looking for and offer to provide a cheaper service.

They have a full dispensary most of the time and what can take you aback is that they have become so knowledgeable of various drugs and their uses.

They specialise in drugs such as HCT, atenolol, decipal, orphenadrine eurazide and many other diabetes and high blood pressure medication.

They will have paracetamol, ibuprofen, amoxicillin tablets, whatever pain relief medication or common antibiotic you can think of, they have.

Some of the pharmacies are not mobile but are permanently situated in the Sixth Avenue area near the closed Basch Street terminus, Egodini.

The pill business has become lucrative for many daring men and women as pharmacies around the country more than tripled prices of drugs, with most chemists demanding forex for payment.

What boggles the mind is how the street pharmacies are so well stocked even with prescription-only medication.

Anna Mbewe, who spoke to B-Metro said she gets most of her medical supplies from Zambia although she connives with some local nurses that she declined to disclose.

“If a drug is going for RTGS$50 at the shops, I will offer it for RTGS$30 or less, and the people will buy. I sell legitimate stuff because I know that we are dealing with people’s health. I have made it my hobby to read about different medicines and know what heals what. Some medical journals are difficult to comprehend but the basic stuff I now know well,” she said.

Some street patients said they wanted to buy from pharmacies but could not afford, hence relying on street pharmacists as their last resort.

“I am taking medication for Parkinson’s disease and diabetes all at the same time. The pharmacy is now beyond my reach but these people in the streets source the medicines somehow and their prices are competitive,” said Thembani Moyo from Magwegwe North suburb.

Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo last week castigated people selling medical supplies and drugs on the street, noting that a lot of the supplies could be counterfeit or expired.

The minister also said some drugs required special conditions such as cool temperatures and prolonged exposure in the sun would render them ineffective.

The minister last Thursday told the Senate that drugs being sold on the streets were extremely dangerous and unsuspecting people could be tricked into purchasing ash packaged as capsules under the pretext that these were genuine antibiotics.

“We encourage people to stay away from buying medicines on the streets because it is very dangerous, but you find people continuing to do so. At times, these counterfeit medicines might not even be effective because they can fill up the capsules with ashes and you think you are taking proper antibiotics when you are not. They can even fill up the capsules with powdered paracetamol, and you will feel some pain relief because of the paracetamol and think that it is an effective antibiotic.

“Those are fake medicines and they are medicines which are not supposed to be given willy-nilly. Medicines have to be prescribed and we have to be absolutely careful on what we ingest as humans in terms of medicines. It must be the correct medicines,” he said.