Just like it happened in many countries across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has stretched and tested Rwanda's health system to a breaking point. But important to note is that it exposed the underlying weaknesses in the health sector.
One key gap is timely procurement of drugs. For many months now, pharmacies around the country continue to report shortage of supply of essential medicines. Many blame the disruption of supply chains caused by the pandemic.
However, the reality is much more. The Auditor-General’s report has pointed a finger at the Medical Procurement and Production Division (MPPD), several times, accusing it of supplying essential medicines below demand for the past four years.
The report indicated that between July 2016 and September 2019, MPPD supplied only 29 per cent of the overall needed essential medicine in the country.
This not only costs lives but it also means more vulnerable people are forced to incur additional expenses on medicines which are not available in public pharmacies.
It is unacceptable that some much needed drugs at times expire in stock.
The delays in the drug procurement process continue to cost us lives, especially at a time they needed drugs more.
People with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and hypertension were more susceptible to contracting the virus, but for the biggest part of the year there has been a shortage of these drugs, first in the public health centres, and then in private pharmacies as well.
The pandemic also caused shifts in the drug distribution systems, where the market experienced a shortage of some vital drugs for example for the throat, nose and eyes as people around the world rushed in to buy because they were the closest alternative to Covid-19 medicine.
There is a shortage of other drugs ranging from antibiotics to pain killers, while the available drugs are also sold expensively.
The pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities among the poor, robbed many of their livelihoods, as breadwinners lost jobs, where many families now cannot afford vital drugs.
The underlying tenet of medicine is access to affordable, efficient and safe treatment, and this is where the government should point it's guns.
Now more than ever, the government needs to address all the issues that impede access to affordable drugs by sorting out the rot in the country's drug procurement system.
You might also find that there are cartels in the drug importation system, who could be involved in underhand practices, that causes a mess in drug procurement.
Just like the government dealt with the cartels in fertilisers, it needs to look into the drug importers so that people don't die due to lack of drugs that are lying in stores.
Covid-19 is still here, but time will come when it will go, and if we don't pick valuable lessons to improve service delivery especially in the health sector, we would have wasted the experience of the pandemic.