'Hey Manto, get off drugs'

More than 1 000 pharmacists and University of KwaZulu-Natal pharmacy students, chanting “save our profession” and waving placards, gathered outside Durban City Hall on Thursday.

The protesters said they were protesting against the ramifications of the government’s new medicine pricing regulations and the issuing of dispensing licences in areas where there are adequate pharmaceutical services.

The university’s director of pharmacy and pharmacology, Sabiha Essack, said it is the first time in an academic year that students are questioning whether pharmacy is the correct career choice. Some are even changing to other courses mid-year.

“We have been told by the KwaZulu-Natal department of pharmaceutical services to treble our intake of students this year. Now I am uncertain whether we will be able to recruit adequate numbers,” she said.

“We support everything the students are doing as we have a common goal,” said Nirupa Misra, pharmacy manager at the King Edward hospital.

“The government needs to be made aware of the implications of the laws.
We are looking at providing quality health care here, which we pharmacists do,” she said.

“What do I tell my students? What hope do they have of becoming economically active and making a contribution to health delivery in South Africa if the very profession that they are investing in is being eroded?” said Vassie Naidoo, lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are being disadvantaged again and we want the Department of Health to re-examine these issues,” he said.

Naidoo said pharmacists are an essential link in the health-care chain, one no one could afford to do without.

“Without pharmacists, there is no medicine and without medicine, there is no health care,” he stressed.

Pharmacist Trevor Howie from Westville Medicine Depot said he has 45 years’ experience in the business.

“People come to us for advice all the time. Some come on bended knees wanting our assistance. Sometimes we give them up to 20 minutes advice and this is for free.

“Where will they go now? Stand in long queues at hospitals?”

Durban pharmacist Louise Weideman said their livelihood and that of the profession is at stake.

Her father, grandfather, brother and uncle are all pharmacists.

“You can’t sell things at cost. Show us a business that can. I have studied for five years and now my profession is threatened.”

Chatsworth pharmacist Nelson Kisten said he wondered whether the government really thought about what it was doing before taking action.

“I wonder, when they promised to create one million jobs, if we were included in that.”

Recently qualified Sulashan Purgdhen from Parklands hospital wanted to know what will happen to young pharmacists who have just completed their degrees.

Some of the placards carried by the group read: “Ask your pharmacist while you still have one”, “Hey Manto, get off drugs”, and “Pharmacists are an endangered species”.

The protesters will be handing a memorandum to provincial health minister Zweli Mkhize on Thursday afternoon in Pietermaritzburg.—Sapa

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