Tanzania has said a new consignment of morphine will be available this month.
The announcement comes following reports that the country is running out of the pain-relieving drug.
“There is a long and strict procedure for obtaining and importing the drug, which ensures it reaches the intended patients only; but all permits for importing and using the drug have been obtained,” acting head of communications in the Ministry of Health Emmanuel Malegi said.
“We don’t expect to face an acute shortage.”
However, the Ministry admitted in a statement seen by The EastAfrican, that the morphine powder in the country would last only a month.
Last month, an official from the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam— the largest distributor of morphine powder—announced that the organisation was facing a shortage, with only two tins left that were expected to last just a month.
The institute gets its supplies from the Medical Stores Department (MSD) which is the sole importer of morphine in Tanzania, and had not received any since June last year.
Mr Malegi said the number of patients receiving palliative care in the country had risen significantly, prompting the government to increase its order for morphine powder.
As a result, institutions involved in controlling the possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of morphine became suspicious and took longer to verify Tanzania’s new order.
Morphine is an analgesic drug obtained from opium and is used medicinally to relieve pain, especially among patients suffering from terminal diseases such as cancer.
It is strictly controlled globally in a bid to avert abuse and trafficking. In Tanzania, only pharmacists and medical doctors can prescribe oral morphine.
The average demand in the country stands at 588 tins of 100 grammes each per year, equivalent to about 59 kilogrammes.
Owing to financial constraints and a lack of local capacity to manufacture controlled medicines, MSD has been ordering up to 411 tins per year, equivalent to 42 kilogrammes.
Besides the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, MSD also supplies morphine powder to Mbeya Referral Hospital in Mbeya Region and Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza Region.
The government chief pharmacist, Daudi Msasi said Tanzania will spend over Tsh200 million ($86,956) on subsidising morphine powder with effect from next financial year.
"The move aims at reducing the price of the drug to Tsh5,000 ($2.2) countrywide,” he said.
The Ocean Road Cancer Institute has been selling morphine powder at Tsh6,000 ($2.6) a litre since 2017, up from Tsh5,000 per five litres.
This has led to a spike in the price of oral morphine to between Tsh8,000 ($3.5) and Tsh10,000 ($4.4) a litre—a price that takes into account transport and administrative costs, as pharmacists in some units spend up to four days on travelling to obtain the powder.