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It is a great pleasure and honour to participate in the inauguration of the new Medical Stores Limited (MSL) central warehouse in Lusaka. In a country as vast as Zambia, it is more difficult to ensure that medicines are distributed throughout the country, reaching each and every patient. However, we all need to bear in mind that the access to essential medicines is a fundamental part of the human rights to health. Access to medicines means access to medical treatment, ensuring that patients receive the right treatment at the right time. This state-of-the-art storage and distribution facility that we are about to inaugurate today is going to significantly improve access to quality medicines for the population of Zambia.
The Lusaka medical store is the backbone of the medicines supply chain in Zambia, storing 80% of all medicines in the public sector.
It is for this reason that the upgrading of the existing central store and the construction of the new warehouse formed the cornerstone of the Medical Stores Infrastructure Masterplan. Besides the upgrading of the two central warehouses in Lusaka and Luanshya, the Masterplan also foresees the construction of six regional hubs, covering therefore the whole distribution chain from the central level to the last mile.
I am proud that the European Union, in partnership with the Government of the Republic of Zambia, played an important role in bringing this ambitious masterplan to fruition, along with other Cooperating Partners, such as the Global Fund and USAID.
The European Union provided a grant of 4.8 million euro (approx. 67 million Kwacha) to Medical Stores Limited for the construction of the new warehouse, upgrading of the existing store, establishment of the warehouse support units’ infrastructure, and building of the new hazardous store. Under the supervision of the United Nations Development Programme, the construction of the works kicked off in March 2018, and in just over one year, all the works have been completed. This is a truly remarkable achievement.
The impact of the transformed central medical store is going to be massive. The storage space in Lusaka has increased nearly fivefold, from 7,000 to 34,000 pallet spaces. There is now a modern receiving, handling, picking, verification, packing and dispatch system in place that can handle delivery of six times more medicines to the patients. The warehouse also became "greener" through the provision of energy efficient equipment and lighting, as well as a sustainable, solar power back-up supply. And security has been significantly strengthened, notably through the rationalization of entry/exit points and the provision of CCTV monitoring equipment. The warehouse is now equipped with a new Warehouse Management System using scanners and barcoding to allow for close management of stocks and tracking of supplies.
All the above is very necessary to mitigate/eliminate the risk of wrong doings and set the ground for good governance in the supply chain management of medicines. Mr. President, you asked us our support in combatting any form of corruption. I truly hope that this new facility will offer what you, and your country, have been asking for.
Your presence here today underscores the importance of this occasion. This new facility is considered as an example in the region and we are aware that a number of countries are interested in making similar investments.
In order to get the best dividends from this investment, it is essential that adequate policy and institutional reforms are implemented: (i) firstly, to ensure that MSL is equipped with adequate financial resources and the right skills to perform its mandate efficiently; (ii) secondly, to improve the overall governance of the procurement and supply chain management of medicines, so as to avoid stock-outs and unsustainable accumulation of arrears in the payment of drugs. I underline that these are essential elements.
We understand in that respect that the Ministry of Health is soon going to launch its new Health Sector Supply Chain Strategy and Implementation plan 2019-2021. We applaud this development and look forward to its effective implementation, including the prioritization of funding for the timely procurement and distribution of medicines, based on needs.
The achievement that we celebrate today is a part of our wider Health Systems Strengthening Programme, an 18 Million EUR (approx. 250 million Kwachas) investment to improve the availability and rational use of quality medicines in Zambia. Your Excellency, you may have seen the bill boards announcing that the new "National Medicines Quality Control Laboratory and ZAMRA’s new HQs will open soon" near the airport road. This laboratory will bring Zambia to the forefront in the region also with respect to quality control of medicines, and we very much count on your presence for its inauguration planned later in the year.
At this juncture I would like to give a final thanks to the Ministry of Health for its leadership, for Medical Stores Limited for their partnership and ownership, the United Nations Development Programme for their impeccable management and supervision of the works, and to the National Authorising Office in the Ministry of Finance for their support. On my part I could not hope for a better way to bid farewell to Zambia and the people of Zambia.