The impact of the three-month strike by pharmacists seems to have been lost on many Ghanaians, but the industrial action has taken a toll on health care and hospital finances.
A visit to some public health facilities in Accra has shown the impact the strike is having on patients in particular and health delivery in general.
Over the period of the strike, drugs have remained on the shelves, behind closed doors, in the various hospitals and polyclinics, while patients or their relatives have to move around pharmacies in search of prescribed drugs.
At some of the hospitals, it was observed that patients who are in dire need of emergency-purpose, life-saving and extemporaneously prepared drugs, as well as those who need to purchase drugs using National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards, have to look outside for those drugs.
Persons living with HIV and psychiatric patients are served their drugs by pharmacists on humanitarian grounds. Some pharmacists also provide services when life-threatening situations arise.
Meanwhile, the strike by pharmacists is seriously eroding the cash inflow of public health facilities.
For the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, over 50 per cent of its internally generated revenue has been lost in the past three months.
When operational, the Korle-Bu Pharmacy generates much of its revenue from about 15 per cent mark up interest on drugs.
The pharmacies at the La and the Korle-Bu polyclinics and the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital had been closed down at the time of the visit.
Officials at the hospitals who did not want to be named spoke of the efforts patients and their relatives had to make before they obtain prescribed drugs.
They said sometimes it took relations of the sick days to get drugs that were needed within minutes.
A serious concern arising out of the situation is that some of the drugs purchased outside the hospital pharmacies are fake.
At other times, people are supplied with the wrong medicines, as those manning the pharmacy shops are unable to read the prescription.
They spoke of a few instances when some patients, especially children, had been given overdose drugs because those dispensing the drugs outside the hospitals did not weigh the patients.
“Last month, I cried bitterly when my cousin who was in labour and bleeding at night could not get medicine to stop it because the pharmacies were locked. We were just lucky that a Good Samaritan helped us locate a night pharmacy in town. My cousin could have died, together with her beautiful baby,” one official said.
The story was, however, different at the Achimota and the Legon hospitals, where the pharmacies had not been affected by the strike.
The Administrator of the Achimota Hospital, Mr Atindaana N. Nssabilla, said the hospital had had to rely on pharmacist technicians to make drugs available to patients.
The Director of Public Affairs at the University of Ghana, Mrs Stella Amoa, explained that the Legon Hospital Pharmacy could not be closed because as a quasi-government institution, the pharmacy, as well as the hospital, was part of the central administration of the university.
She added that medical doctors at the hospital did not join in strikes by doctors in public hospitals.
Why the industrial action?
Explaining why they are on strike, Mr Raymond Tetteh, the immediate past Chairman of the Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association (GHOSPA), said the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) should be blamed, for failing to implement the National Labour Commission‘s (NLC), ruling on their grade structure and market premium.
Previously, when GHOSPA members were on the Hospital Salary Structure, a consolidated salary, it took into consideration 192 Extra Duty Allowance (EDA), but this had been reduced to 58 hours, as a proxy for the market premium.
The development, he said, had brought the salaries of pharmacists down compared to what they were receiving three years ago. He said this had also resulted in the reduction of their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contributions.
Mr Tetteh said the pharmacists had though been offered conversion difference.
He showed this reporter the 2010 and current pay slips of a specialist pharmacist with 25 years experience, (named withheld), which indicated that he received a little over GH¢3,000 a month in 2010.
Currently that Pharmacist takes home a salary of GH¢1,750, with an additional GH¢1,100 market premium, which is taxed and does not have an impact on his SSNIT contribution.
By Donald Ato Dapatem
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