Plans to revive drugs company

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By ‘Majirata Latela

The ministry of health is investigating aspects that led to the closure of the Lesotho Pharmaceutical Corporation (LPC) following prime minister Moeketsi Majoror’s directive for the resuscitation of the corporation.

A report on the past, current and future production capacity of generic medicines in Lesotho written by Gertrude Mothibe, a lecturer in pharmaceutical sciences and pharmaceutical chemistry at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) says in 1977 Lesotho took the decision to protect its citizens against drug shortage in the event that the then South Africa should close its borders with Lesotho.

The report says the decision to have a National Drug Stockpile Organization (NDSO) was a direct response to the observed threat. A decision to manufacture drugs in Lesotho gave birth to the Lesotho Dispensary Association (LDA) which has now become the LPC.

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When launching the Mafeteng Hospital oxygen plant last week Majoro said a decision was made by cabinet to resuscitate the defunct LPC so as to produce drugs and vaccines for medicinal purposes.

He said the decision was reached after realisation that Covid-19 pandemic emerged. The government learned that each country was to produce its own drugs so as to be independent. He said nations that produced own vaccines were highly protective in distributing the jabs to other nations.

He foresaw that the Coronavirus would affect people’s lives for years to come.

 “We need Lesotho Pharmaceutical Cooperation again here in Mafeteng as we already have National Drugs Service Organisation (NDSO). I still remember vividly some of the products from the cooperation such as LDA lotion and some medication we produced locally which other countries bought from us,

“I have (established) a committee here that started working just recently which will look into how we can start producing our own medication.

“Minister (Semano) Sekatle has announced that he found that there was a slight mistake that led to the collapse of the corporation and has promised to bring it back to life. I am supporting the decision because I also want the corporation to begin operations,” he told the public.

Majoro said the government’s dream was to establish several pharmaceutical corporations for production of medicine. He was quick to observe that the country was endowed with a variety of high quality indigenous plants that could be used for medicinal purposes.

He was mindful of the NUL Mosotho lecturer who has used various plants to produce a cough mixture. He described the innovation as a good start towards the country producing its own medication.

 “We have learned that we should not depend on other countries to produce medication and vaccines for us because governments prioritise their own people before giving or selling vaccines to other people,” Majoro insisted.

In an interview with theReporter newspaper this week, principal secretary of the ministry of health, Khothatso Tšooana said his ministry did not obtain any written directive to work on resuscitating the LPC. But, he added, the ministry has started work on finding ways to bring to life the corporation following Majoro’s stern directive.

 “Prime ministers sometimes do not have to write to us when they direct us to work on a certain matter. They sometimes talk in public like the prime minister has done. What we have to do is listen to what he said and do as he directs. He has given us the policy direction and it is for us as officers to do as he directs,

“There is a lot to learn or find out about the cooperation. We need to learn about the laws that established it and leave no stone unturned when we scrutinise what actually transpired that led to the collapse.

 “At the moment I cannot say there is anything tangible that we have uncovered as we are just in the beginning of the process,” Tšooana said.

For his part, the Lesotho Pharmaceutical Association’s president, Temiso Letsatsi welcomed the move that is set to improve the country’s health system. He urged for a speedy start to implement the plan.

He bemoaned that the country has to date not produced any drug to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, saying by now the kingdom should be manufacturing its own personal protective equipment.

Letsatsi is confident that the country has capacity to find its own medicine. What is in shortage is the machinery, he remarked.

Letsatsi confirmed that the LPC was first known as Lesotho Dispensary Association but since it was a non- profit making association that was turned into a corporation when it made some profits.

“The cooperative worked very well until World Health Organisation introduced Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) around 2000. The WHO indicated that every company that produced medication has to acquire a GMP certificate which at that time was M22-million.

“The country as well as the association failed to acquire the certificate as the government offered the association M8-million which was not enough. That led to the association losing clients. Many countries such as Botswana, South Africa, then Swaziland and others which depended on Lesotho’s medication started pulling out. This was because WHO has advised countries should buy medication from countries which have GMP certificates,” Letsatsi said.

He said the association losing clients meant low profits and later failing to run the daily production.

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