Facing drugs shortage, Nepal mulls airlifting of medicines

Kathmandu, Nov 16 (IANS) Nepal is facing an acute shortage of medicines, including life-saving drugs, following the protracted blockading of the Nepal-India border by Madhesi and indigenous Nepali groups protesting alleged discrimination under the country’s new constitution.

Medicines were yet another area of scarcity sparked off by the almost two-month-old blockade by protestors demanding amendment to the constitution that was promulgated on September 20.

The Himalayan nation has begun to suffer shortage of essentials like foodgrains, fuel and cooking gas since the blockade commenced and has had to look for sources of supply elsewhere other than southern neighbour India.

Entrepreneurs dealing in medicines here said around 400 trucks laden with drugs were stranded at various points on the Nepal-India border.

Officials in Kathmandu warned that health facilities would suffer if the situation did not improve within two weeks, putting thousands of patients at risk.

Health ministry officials said essential drugs would be brought into the country via the air route.

The ministry was working to bring essential medicines from other countries, including Thailand, said Dr Guna Raj Lohani, chief of curative division at the Ministry of Health & Population (MoHP).

Stocks of medicines and surgical equipment in both government and private hospitals has been depleted.

Many district hospitals reported that they were running out of key medicines since MoHP had not sent emergency medicines to the district health offices for the past two months.

Essential medicines for patients admitted in the intensive care units of major hospitals in Kathmandu were in short supply, while reagent stocks in laboratories too were running low. Radiology units were also struggling to provide diagnostic results due to lack of x-ray films.

Hospitals outside Kathmandu too were facing a crisis as medicines for even fever and common cold were in short supply in many districts.

Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre, a key hospital here with expertise in heart surgery, had decreased cardiac operations by 25 to 50 percent due to inadequate medicines, according to hospital officials.

Authorities told IANS that those not in need of emergency surgery were advised to defer the procedures. This prompted patients to either shift to private hospitals or visit India for treatment.

Referral hospitals like Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital and Bir Hospital were also fast running out of stocks of life-saving drugs, including adrenaline and atropine, used on heart patients.

“If we do not get the drugs which are stuck at border entry points, our services will be critically affected,” said Dr Uttam Shrestha, director of Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplant Centre.

Fourteen pharmaceutical industries along the Raxaul-Birgunj-Hetauda stretch stopped medicine production due to lack of raw materials and security threats.

The border blockade has led to shortage of drugs, particularly those used to cure blood pressure, diabetes, and mental and heart ailments and also affected production within the country.

Prakash Khandelwal, vice-chairman of Association of Pharmaceutical Producers, said medicine production has come to a halt due to the blockade.

“Medicines have gone out of stock across the country,” he said, adding that a majority of pharmaceutical industries in Nepal import 90 percent of raw and packaging materials from Birgunj (Raxaul on the India side) customs point. He said some drugs were imported via Bhairahawa (Nautanwa on the Indian side) customs point.

 

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