Pharmacists angry as Sudan plans to liberalise medicine prices amidst dengue outbreak

Sudan is witnessing its worst outbreak of dengue fever in more than a decade, with North and South Kordofan and the Red Sea state particularly hard hit. The health ministry is planning to liberalize drug prices but pharmacists have warned against the move.

Cases of dengue fever and malaria are on the rise in Sudan after recent floods, which have allowed mosquito-borne diseases to spread rapidly because post-flood conditions are ideal for these animals that lay their eggs on the surface of stagnant water.

“Flooding caused by warming and a lack of preventive care are driving the spread of disease,” the Guardian explained yesterday. This situation is worsening as weather in Sudan becomes more extreme as a result of climate change.

Dr Muntasir Osman, director general of the Federal Ministry of Health’s Emergency Department, told the news outlet that 2022 saw the “biggest spread of fever geographically in the country’s history” with 1,430 cases recorded.

South Kordofan has now recorded three confirmed cases of dengue fever out of 75 suspected cases.

South Kordofan Reda Abdelhadi, director of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, explained that the ministry has “an integrated plan” to combat the epidemic through a campaign to combat the disease-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito and organize awareness campaigns.

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The director told reporters in the state capital Kadugli this morning that strict vigilance is continuing and investigation of patients is underway to confirm and report cases.

Radio Dabanga reported last week that such confirmation is difficult because there is only one laboratory in the whole of Sudan that can confirm vector-borne diseases.

Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by ‘vectors’, such as mosquitoes or ticks. These diseases include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya and Rift Valley fever.

Campaign support

Youth groups in Kadugli have started a voluntary blood donation drive for dengue patients in neighboring North Kordofan. They are calling on people to donate blood in the capital of South Kordofan.

The campaign was implemented in collaboration with the South Kordofan Laboratories and Blood Bank Division of the Ministry of Health and Social Development. Its director, Fakhreldin Shaddad, told Radio Dabanga that the campaign was initiated by youth from the ‘Emergency Street’, ‘For Our Country’, Taferi Neighborhood and Youth Peer Education Network groups.

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He said that these recurring campaigns are organized at the beginning of every year, but this time they started the campaign because of the “exceptional situation in North Kordofan”.

In North Kordofan, doctors have called for the capital El Obed to be declared a disaster area due to a recent outbreak of dengue fever.

Increased funding

Sudan’s health minister has called for increased health financing and a review of the country’s health financing system.

Acting Minister of Health Haisam Ibrahim said there is a need to increase health financing from nine to 15 percent of the national budget while addressing a workshop on reforming the health financing system in Sudan held in Khartoum on Sunday.

A thorough review of the health financing system is also much needed.

The workshop’s most important recommendation focused on drug prices. Drug prices should be readjusted to the new, floating dollar rate to increase the availability of medical supplies and help pay off suppliers, they said.

In order for the country’s Ministry of Health to have control over all health services, a supervisory and approval board under the supervision of the Federal Minister should be constituted.

Clear policies should be formulated to reduce the cost of treatment and increase prevention spending, besides providing free medical centers across the country, improved transportation of medical supplies and improved health insurance facilities.

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Caution against liberalization

After the minister’s speech, the Professional Pharmacists Association warned of the dire consequences of the decision to “liberalize the dollar price of drugs to increase medical supply in the country”.

Pharmacists said in a press statement yesterday that the decision will certainly double the price of drugs in pharmacies, reducing access to medical supplies for many Sudanese.

Pharmacist Farid Abdelwahab told Radio Dabanga that the liberalization of drug price exchange rates will increase the suffering of patients, even those who have health insurance.

The statement explained that drug prices were determined using a fixed exchange rate of one US dollar from SDG18 until the end of 2019. In early 2020, this rate was raised to SDG55 in 2021 and SDG165 in 2021. Since then, exchange rate appreciation has continued to approach the value of the “fully liberalized dollar”.

According to the Central Bank of Sudan (CBoS), the US dollar selling rate currently fluctuates between SDG567 and SDG583 for 1USD.

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