Thursday, September 6, 2007

The supply chain in Botswana

This was a relatively boring day at the hospital since this is our easy week, so maybe now I’ll talk about some another issue at the hospital – the supply chain! This is a favorite topic of Dr. Stefanski's, so we've had quite a few discussions about it.

So here at Princess Marina Hospital, probably the largest public hospital in Botswana, there are often problems with the availability of medicine, or of certain medical instruments, even very common ones. Last week, we ran out of amphotericin, which is a drug we use to treat cryptococcal meningitis - that's an infection in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. It's the type of thing that we diagnose with an LP, which I described in previous posts. Because a lot of people have HIV and AIDS here, a lot more here come down with meningitis than in the states - some of it is due to TB, some bacterial, some bacterial, but more often than not, it's due to cryptococcus. And amphotericin is really the only option they have in Botswana to treat it. Alternatively, you can use a whopping dose of fluconazole, but it doesn't work as well, and we also ran out of that for a few days last weekend. As a result, all these people in the hospital (and in the clinics probably) had no amphotericin, and also no fluconazole - their cryptococcal meningitis went untreated! Now, even if they had come in immediately and started treatment right away, this is an awful disease, and chances are not great that they'll survive. But if treatment is delayed or halted for a couple of days, chances are even worse! Our team didn't have anybody die, but I know other teams that did.

Dr. Stefanski told us this story about how last year, they ran out of the solution needed for peritoneal dialysis, which is a substitute for your kidneys, if your kidneys have failed. Dialysis isn't as common here as in the states, but there are still quite a lot of people on it. And they were out of it for a month! People were basically getting admitted to the hospital to die of kidney failure. Awful.

Apparently, the problem is not lack of money - the ministry of health has plenty of money. It is the largest ministry in Botswana, and controls the largest budget by far. The problem is that somebody or some group, whoever is in charge of ordering medical supplies for the country, did not realize that we were running low on drug X, or medical supply Y, and didn't order it. So the entire country will be out of whatever it is for a month at a time! Supposedly, they've had 3 big consulting companies (probably each making millions of dollars each time) come in and make suggestions as to how to correct the problem, but obviously that hasn't happened. It seems that every time there is a change in who's in charge, they get a new consulting company in (probably they're friend or relative's company) and get new recommendations, which aren't followed. It's such a ridiculous problem, and a very exasperating one that all the doctors complain about. I guess it's another thing to be thankful for in the States.

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