“Bribery in the health system results in higher drug prices”, Goodwell Lungu of Transparency International Zambia said as MeTA Zambia was being formed in 2008. And lack of information for patients about services and medicines - about where and when they are provided, about who provides them and the procedures to be followed - creates an environment in which corruption can flourish.
"In human terms, corruption can cost lives," Lungu emphasised.
But he noted that "Transparency International Zambia (which has played an active role in setting up the alliance’s Zambia programme) feels that the concept of the Medicines Transparency Alliance in bringing together various stakeholders, the private sector, civil society, the government and other interest groups - has the potential to improve transparency in the medicine supply chain and will ultimately improve the lives of all public health service providers and beneficiaries."
In April 2008 Zambia joined other countries participating in MeTA, and the first stakeholder meeting was held the following month. Towards the end of the year a work plan was drafted, the MeTA Interim Council started preparing a roadmap for implementation and a meeting was held for civil society organisations. Finally after consultations with stakeholders, the official launch date for Zambia MeTA was fixed for the end of March 2009.
CSOs have been active in the preparations. Four Zambian CSO representatives took part in a skills-building seminar in Uganda in February 2008 at which they resolved to brief the wider CSO community and meet other organisations participating in the MeTA process, to develop a baseline assessment of the situation in their country, and to organise an advocacy strategy.
A briefing by the International MeTA Secretariat outlined some of the challenges ahead: “In recent years failures in the procurement and supply of medicines have been acknowledged, with essential drugs often out of stock. The connection between the different units and healthcare facilities and the related information system … did not work routinely, forcing emergency procurement if/when funds were available. This led to high prices being paid, further deteriorating the situation.”
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