Patients feel the pain over shortage of high blood pressure medication


Patients suffer as shortage of high blood pressure drug hits pharmacies

Pharmacies are experiencing a shortage of over-the-counter high blood pressure medication, causing financial stress for thousands of patients who are forced to pay more for alternatives to manage their condition.

A spot check has established that drug stores across the country, including online pharmacies, are facing a stock out of Valsartan 160mg tablet (28 tablets) by Novartis-Access, the generic version of Novartis’ Diovan for close to three months.

Only one store reported a limited stock of the drug, charging double the usual price. A tablet is selling at Sh180 translating to Sh5,040 for a dose of 28 tablets. Normally, a tablet goes for Sh70, totalling Sh1,960 for the full dose.

Valsartan is an angiotensin II receptor blocker (ARB) that is used for lowering blood pressure. It works by blocking the effect of angiotensin II, which makes blood vessels relax more. It is one of the first-choice medication options for treating high blood pressure in many cases as experts consider them more effective.

“This drug has been out of stock for two months now, I don’t know what happened, but many patients have been coming with the package to ensure they buy the exact prescription,” said one pharmacist. “We don’t know where this company disappeared to since January after the supply started going down in December. So we even stopped stocking its drugs,” added another seller.

A patient who requested anonymity told the Business Daily that the shortage of the drug forced her to go back to her doctor for another prescription, which she says is so expensive. “Pharmacies I visited started reporting it’s sold out in January, so I can’t tell the actual time the drug started to disappear from the market. I had to visit my doctor for a way forward, and I was put on another prescription, but the price is so high,” said the patient.

A search on MYDAWA, an online pharmacy, yielded no results for Valsartan. However, other hypertension medications like Diovan, Co-diovan, Exforge, Norvasc, and Securil are available with prices ranging from Sh1,575 to Sh6,550 based on dosage and type.

“The situation is quite challenging because it is not easy to switch between blood pressure drugs..." said a pharmacist in Nairobi.

Typically, when we run out of a particular drug, we have to change the entire treatment plan. This means that there can be different outcomes associated with the new plan. The new treatment may not be as effective as the previous one, or it may have different or even worse side effects.

“Blood pressure drugs are prescriptions, for Valsartan, there is no alternative because the molecules on the drug are hard to find. That’s why a patient must go back and speak to the doctor before we administer any alternative,” said a pharmacist in Nairobi.

The shortage of a crucial medication used in managing blood pressure is just one of the many issues faced by health facilities in maintaining stable supplies of essential drugs like Tuberculosis drugs and rotavirus vaccines. These supply chain hitches put patients at risk of serious complications and need to be addressed urgently.

Efforts to reach the Pharmacy and Poisons Board for the cause of the shortage were unsuccessful as phone calls went unanswered.

Hypertension is a significant contributor to cardiovascular diseases and the second most common cause of mortalities in the country.

As per the Ministry of Health, the prevalence of hypertension is 24 percent. However, only 22 percent of people with hypertension have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment, and out of those, only three percent have achieved blood pressure control.

Despite the high burden of hypertension, about 44 percent of health facilities in the country are not equipped to diagnose and treat it.

Early identification, screening, and timely initiation of treatment are effective interventions for hypertension.

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