Charity bails out KZN hospital with drugs

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In KwaZulu-Natal, the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital (IALCH) narrowly averted having to cancel all elective surgery, including hip operations for patients on waiting lists, when benevolent organisation Gift of the Givers gave the hospital supplies of a drug it did not have, according to a Sunday Tribune report.

A high-placed medical source at a government hospital, who cannot be named for professional reasons, confirmed that at the start of the week there was a critical shortage of the anaesthetic drug bupivacaine at the hospital. The drug is a long-acting local anaesthetic used in Caesarean sections, labour epidurals and for pain relief by nerve blocking after major surgery.

It was learned that the provincial Department of Health was informed in late January that supplies of various medicines would run short because there was a problem at a pharmaceutical factory that was a preferred supplier of the drugs. Despite the warning, and the fact that alternatives to Bupivacaine were available from other suppliers, the drug was not ordered. By the end of last week, sources said the “stocks had reached a critically low level and the anaesthetic department was forced to request that all elective (that is, non-emergency) surgery requiring local anaesthetic be postponed. In response, the head of orthopaedics, Professor Ismail Goga, arranged for bupivacaine to be purchased by Gift of the Givers and donated to the hospital at a cost of R17,590.”

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, head of Gift of the Givers said: “We support government hospitals and clinics in South Africa. It is one of the 21 categories (covered by) our projects. We have been doing this since 1994. We have supplied medical equipment, medicines, detergents, intravenous fluids in the case of a cholera epidemic, supported weekend surgery to catch up on backlogs in government facilities, provided disposable theatre items, wheelchairs and whatever else we have in stock…’ Sooliman said there was no question of reimbursement for the drugs.”

Sam Mkhwanazi, spokesman for the KZN Department of Health, said: “The shortage of medication is a national challenge. Furthermore, it should be noted that health facilities do not order medication individually. Regarding the donation, the department would like to place it on record that there was nothing untoward about it, but instead it assisted in ensuring that the provision of healthcare services is not compromised.”

However, the DA MEC for health, Dr Wilmot James, said it was unacceptable for a major state hospital to delay ordering vital drugs, and then accept donations from benevolent organisations for medicines that should be funded by government. “The crisis was created as a consequence of very poor management in this instance,” he said. “It is just not on for donor money to be used to prop up an ailing and inefficient department of health.”

Many women face an increased risk of dying from breast cancer because the mammogram machine at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital has broken down says DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom in a Politicsweb report. He says this x-ray machine plays a critical role in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer and means that there will be delays in detecting breast cancer that will increase the risk of dying from this disease. Bloom notes that poor maintenance is largely to blame as well as perennial under-spending of machinery budgets. At a meeting of the Gauteng Legislature’s Health Committee, the Gauteng Health Department officially projected an under-spend of R47m on machinery in the current financial year to end-March.

Full Politicsweb report
Full Sunday Tribune report (subscription needed)

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