Healthcare under severe distress due to medicine shortage

Shortage of critical conventional medicine in hospitals is giving many sleepless nights and is a growing concern despite Minister Edwin Dikoloti's assurances to the public in November last year that by December the crisis would be old news.

As a result of the acute shortage of critical drugs and specialists over the last two years, Dikoloti said government had no option but to refer patients to private health facilities leading to a sharp rise in cost from P3 million to P1 billion.

Botswana is in the middle of the worst shortage of medicines ever. Some patients have been sent from pillar to post while others have had a premature reunion with their ancestors on account of no access to critical medication.

A multiple condition patient who spoke on condition of anonymity described the situation as dire.

"I went without medication for a whole month. I had to find money to buy it from a private facility and it was expensive. My health is fragile; I get blackouts, my blood pressure is high and I have respiratory issues. I am worried that I have not been taking meds well but I am hopeful that the situation improves."

Perhaps to save face, Health Minister Dikoloti said in November that Government had engaged major pharmaceutical manufacturers for immediate supply of critical medications by December 2022.

He said what was of great concern was the acute shortage of critical medications, especially for chronic conditions.

"Cancer drugs are currently at 44 percent availability and the implication is that when patients are inadequately managed, they may eventually require more expensive and cumbersome ways of treatment."

This could be a good time for Batswana to explore alternative medicine particularly traditional medicine and engage herbalists and alternative health practitioners.

Towards the end of last year, the Ministry of Health (MoH) held the second National Health Research Symposium in Gaborone under the theme, 'Unearthing Health Research for Better Uptake: Linking Research and Policy Practice.'

The Symposium called on Botswana to scale up the use of traditional medicine whose uptake is still relatively low. It also suggested that this could be the best time to harness traditional medicine for population health needs as stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–23.

Since 2019, Botswana has indicated that it is considering enacting legal instruments aimed at regulating traditional health practice for traditional medicines to be recognised following realisation that integrative medicine is growing as alternative forms.

The then Minister of health Lemogang Kwape, noted at the time that integrative medicines are now being used in tandem with conventional medicine to improve health and quality of life. He noted that the world is moving towards embracing and adopting alternative medicine and efforts were being made to use both traditional and science in medicine and the demand for complementary medication is high.

"Many people were looking to alternative medicine, as a solution towards securing their health and quality of life."

He suggested that Botswana should take strategy points from WHO's traditional medicinal recommendations, which call for regulation of traditional medicine, development of local production and conservation of medicinal plants.

WHO is currently working with research institutions to select traditional medicine products which can be investigated for clinical efficacy and safety for various diseases, a 2022 statement from the organisation notes.

It further indicates that the organisation will continue to support countries as they explore the role of traditional health practitioners in prevention, control, and early detection of viruses.

“WHO welcomes every opportunity to collaborate with countries and researchers to develop new therapies and encourages such collaboration for the development of effective and safe therapies for Africa and the world."