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Ports challenges lock up COVID-19 drugs

  • Drugs at risk of expiration before clearance
  • Prices could go up

Essential drugs meant for the treatment of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients are locked up at the ports, awaiting clearance, due to the challenges faced at the ports by the newly introduced Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS), designed by UNIPASS.

With recorded cases currently standing at more than 10,000, and more than 6,000 active cases, pharmaceutical industry players are getting worried about possible expiration of these drugs and when finally cleared could also result in higher prices due to demurrages and other charges as a result of late clearance.

The Chamber of Pharmacy, Ghana and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Ghana have sent out distress calls to the Ministry of Health and Port Authorities to assist in clearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Vitamin C drugs and some other medications which have been locked up at the port but urgently needed for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.

“Vitamin C is almost in short supply now; we need a lot of Vitamin C but now they are locked up. PPE are also locked up; these are things that are needed to fight COVID-19. We have tried to speak to all the bodies that matter, telling them about the urgency of the situation but we are yet to get any positive result,” the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chamber of Pharmacy Ghana, Anthony Ameka told the B&FT in an interview.

A statement issued by Chamber of Pharmacy, Ghana and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Ghana added that: “The cumbersome processes under the new system operated by UNIPASS has proven very costly for our members in terms of time and actual value of service at the ports.

The virtual manual process has resulted in delays in the clearing of pharmaceutical imports, which has come with the risk of high cost in demurrage. The frustrations of the slow and unwieldy processes caused by the system rather than the importers has also placed our members at the mercy of the same system, with the prospects of further cost in penalties of various kinds.”

Drugs could expire before clearance

The statement further expressed fear of expiration of some drugs if steps are not taken to address the challenge. “Besides, our members are also faced with the risk of losing some imports to expiration altogether, if the products are not cleared in good time.

It is our fear that some of the pharmaceutical raw materials could reach their expiry dates before they are cleared from the ports if the snail pace manual process is not resolved quickly,” the statement added.

Cost of drugs to go up

According to Mr. Ameka, the development is also likely to increase the cost of drugs on the market. “There would be demurrage and other extra charges, this is likely to affect the prices of these drugs. Pharmacies would not want to sell at a loss, they will pass it on to the buyers but in doing this there is a challenge for the sector because it would affect the cost of doing business and these are the times you would want to keep prices of drugs stable.

In this period of COVID-19 when the pharmaceutical industry has become a mainstay of the world’s survival, the present chaos at Ghana’s ports are the least we expected to experience in our effort to deliver to the needs of the nation.

We, therefore, wish to appeal to government to resolve the recent challenges that have characterised import clearance at Ghana’s ports. The bottlenecks, we wish to emphasize, have imposed harsh burdens on our members who have had to fall on government support to survive the COVID-19 conditions. If the current situation persists, it could erode the benefits of the financial and other forms of cushioning we received from the government to overcome the COVID-19 era challenges,” he ended.

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