Depression victims face shortage of vital medication

'Even with this medication, depression victims fight a daily battle. Every life lost is, in this case, a preventable tragedy,' says the leader of a depression support group.

Mental health patients who depended on medication for survival have been left in the lurch since the beginning of August as several hospitals and clinics in Gauteng have experienced a shortage of vital psychiatric drugs.

Gauteng department of health spokesperson Philane Mhlungu confirmed this, saying the shortage was a national one.

National department of health spokesperson Popo Maja conceded there was a problem but refused to comment on what was being done about it.

The leader of a support group for people suffering from depression, Lizl Joosten, said patients would relapse if they don’t get medication urgently.

“In Pretoria, several patients went to Kalafong Hospital and Pretoria West and Laudium community healthcare centres with no luck. Sometimes they are told that these essential drugs are not available, or are given an insufficient supply and told to come back later,” Joosten said.

“This has a major effect on the health of people suffering from depression, which can be caused by a shortage of a certain chemicals produced by the brain.

“Interruption in this chemical cycle disturbs production of vital chemicals by the brain which takes up to 18 months to build up with the help of pills,” explained Joosten.

She said the patient would slide back into a depression cycle and the fight started all over again.

“Even with this medication, depression victims fight a daily battle.

“Without the help of medication, the battle is even harder and can have fatal consequences. Every life lost is, in this case, a preventable tragedy.

“Hospitals and clinics that are fully aware of the danger want to help patients, but this is a national matter and beyond their control.”

Although this is a national crisis, Democratic Alliance shadow MEC for health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, believed the department could do better to provide medication, and not only rely on the nationally contracted supplier.

“This is a distressing situation that affects very vulnerable people,” he said.

“The Gauteng health department needs to be more proactive in buying drugs that are in short supply because of failures in national medicine contracts.

“Before government introduces national health insurance, there is much they can do to address simple things, like managing drug stocks.”

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