Bitter pill to swallow for greedy pharmacies

PHARMACEUTICAL and Chemical Distributors (PCD), a local drug distributor, has revealed that it is supplying pharmaceuticals to pharmacies in bond note currency and transfers, which they resale in United States dollars, thereby shortchanging customers.

BY KUDZAI MUCHENJEKWA/EVERSON MUSHAVA

PCD chief executive, Prashant Shah confirmed to NewsDay that they were now selling pharmaceuticals in bond note and RTGS and this “includes medication for chronic illnesses”.

“It has become evident that the majority of patients cannot afford to pay for medication for chronic conditions in US dollars from the retailer pharmacies. This has prompted dialogue between PCD and the Health and Child Care ministry aimed at facilitating access to these lifesaving medicines,” Shah said.

“As a result, we are pleased to announce that effective November 19, 2018, customers can pay for all products available at PCD using any legal tender, including RTGS, mobile money, cash (bond notes and coins) and any other currencies in the multi-currency basket at the official exchange rates.”

One PCD customer who spoke on condition of anonymity told NewsDay that they were selling drugs in the same currency they were getting them from distributors.

“We are selling the drugs in bond note and RTGS even EcoCash because that’s how we are getting it here from our distributors. Yes, some pharmacies sell using US dollars, but that’s being unfair considering that they buy the medication in bond and RTGS,” the customer said.

Patients who spoke to NewsDay said they were having a nightmare accessing foreign currency after the introduction of the Exchange Control and Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act, which prescribes a 10-year jail term for unlicenced foreign currency traders.

“I am sick, I have an ear inflammation and I’m supposed to buy drugs immediately. I went to the pharmacy; the drug costs about US$87. I did not have the foreign currency and went in the street to look for the dollar,” David Zimbudzi said.

“Most people said they no longer trade in forex because they are afraid of being jailed. I went to my bank and there was no foreign currency. What should I do, I desperately need the drugs. Government should have licensed some bureau de change before the law, we are going to die.”

Health minister Obadiah Moyo said government was working hard to secure foreign currency to give to wholesalers and urged retailers to charge in available currencies
“We are discouraging retailers from charging in a currency that is scarce, yes it is in the currency basket but it is not available. We encourage retailers to accept medical aid cards, RTGS and EcoCash,” Moyo said.

“We are trying to make sure supplies of drugs increase and everything will get back to normal. Manufacturers get foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and should not sell in forex, it is not acceptable.”

“We are putting up a committee which will look into the allocation of foreign currency, to see if they are utilising correctly. I am actually going to see the wholesalers right now to assess the situation.”

Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi said government would soon introduce formal channels of foreign currency trade through a new law that the Justice ministry was working on.

He said Mnangagwa’s law would only be valid for six months, subject to being subjected to a parliamentary process.

“Work has now started with the Ministry of Justice to come up with a law that can be acceptable to everybody, to stop money laundering and inflation of prices. The law coming is not intended to punish anyone but to enhance normal business practices,” Mutodi said.