A variety of warehousing systems that are obsolete are the apparent cause of current chronic medication shortages at government clinics and hospitals, especially affecting Limpopo.

Chronic medication shortages due to obsolete warehouse systems


Patients who receive prescription medication from the Louis Trichardt government clinic approached the Zoutpansberger recently to share their concerns about being turned away from the clinic without their chronic medication, apparently as a result of shortages.

Requesting anonymity for fear of victimisation, residents have shared various problems relating to the clinic. One pensioner said that he returned to the clinic for three days in a row, arriving there before it opened in the mornings and being turned away every afternoon, without his medication, when the staff went home. When he was finally seen, he was told that the clinic did not have stock of one of his chronic medications that he is supposed to take daily or face the possibility of having a heart attack. He said that waiting for days at the clinic was uncomfortable enough without being sent home empty-handed. “The clinic has not had functional toilets for years now,” he said, “and the lack of hygiene there is very bad, but I cannot afford even R100 from my already small government pension to pay for my medications.”

Elderly pensioners who have reported similar incidences say they cannot do anything. If they cannot get their chronic medications from the clinic, they just go without them and hope for the best as they cannot afford to pay for them at the chemist.

In a media statement released on 9 October, Popo Maja, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, announced that a meeting had been held on the same day between the Premier of Limpopo, the Minister of Health, and the MECs for Health and Treasury to discuss recent reports about shortages of drugs, especially in Limpopo. Also at the meeting were officials from the National Department of Health, the Limpopo Department of Health, the Provincial Treasury, and depot officials from around the country. They agreed in their meeting that these shortages, or “drug stock-outs”, were being caused by the new pharmaceutical warehouse management system.

In 2011, the Auditor General (AG) carried out the first ever performance audit of the management of pharmaceuticals at the Department of Health throughout the country.  This audit took five years to complete and ascertained that South Africa has 10 medical depots that all use one of four different systems to manage stock and make sure that hospitals and clinics have enough supplies. The AG found that all these systems are obsolete and problematic and recommended that a new system be found. After further meetings, the decision was taken that a new system would not be needed after all as the National Treasury had already commissioned the design of a warehouse management system, called G-Commerce, that would be owned by the State.

The system was piloted in the Northern Cape from March 2017, where it experienced the expected teething problems, which have mostly been resolved. The 9 October meeting concluded that plans would continue to standardise this system across all provinces and that, to this end, the Department of Health would dispatch a six-person team, three of whom would be shuttling between Limpopo and the Northern Cape, to assist with the current drug-shortage problems. A technical team with members from the National Department of Health, the Limpopo Department of Health, and the Limpopo Provincial treasury has now been established to be on hand in case any immediate problems need to be resolved.


News - Date: 13 October 2018

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Jo Robinson

Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.

Email: [email protected]