Health Ministry says moving to curb drugs shortage, wastage

The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has committed to making the shortage of drugs and medical supplies a thing of the past in 2017.

“It is our hope that the recurring issue of the unavailability of drugs and medical supplies will become a thing of the past come 2017, as we aim to make the procurement process data-driven. This will ensure the reliable supply of these vital commodities and the avoidance of wastage,” Public Health Minister Dr George Norton told reporters at the ministry’s end-of-year press conference on Friday, where the problem was highlighted as one of 2016’s main challenges.  It was confirmed yesterday that Norton has since been shifted from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Social Cohesion.

Norton along with Junior Minister Karen Cummings stated that at the level of the ministry, $1,004,270,447 was spent in 2016 on the procurement of drugs and medical supplies. This sum was represented in the procurement of 812 line items worth of supplies, which was a 31.4% decrease from the 1,183 items procured 2015.  According to the ministry, this reduction is as a result of a sloth in the procurement system caused by the introduction of a new Open Competitive Bidding process.

“All deliveries of pharmaceuticals and health products procured through the Procurement Unit of the ministry are made to the Supply Chain Management Complex (SCMS), the MOPH central medical stores located at Diamond, East Bank Demerara. This new Open Competitive Bidding process was used for the first time in January, 2016, after many years of selective tendering with one supplier. The major challenge faced with this new process was the evaluation process using the “line-by-line” approach, which was time consuming, with over twenty bidders participating in the process, some for the very first time,” Cummings explained.

Despite these efforts, there continued to be reports of severe shortages of essential drugs in several outlying regions. The situation prompted Region One Vice Chairman Sarah Browne to question how the ministry had spent $77 million warranted to the region for regional drugs.

According to Norton, this is something he would like to understand as well. He noted that in at least one region the Guyana Police Force has been asked to investigate the disappearance of several HIV rapid test kits.

“I am not happy with what is happening where drug shortages are concerned… We have a report right now that rapid test kits left the Materials Management Unit (MMU) to go up to Region Six, but disappeared into thin air,” he said.

Norton maintained that while he is not blaming anyone, he needs to have clear answers since similar situations have been happening in regions One and Seven.

“It happens in Region One too, between Mabaruma and Port Kaituma, Rapid Test Kits are disappearing,” Norton said, adding, “I called Region Seven on Tuesday morning and I heard there are no Rapid Test Kits.”

In the case of Region One, Norton noted that he has received reports that officials responsible for distributing the medical supplies were not issuing receipts indicating the amount of supplies received from the MMU or the amount distributed.

“They just deliver and have them sign as receiving yet no one can say how much of what was received. There is no accountability. The MMU is clandestinely releasing information to us,” Norton explained.

He also noted that even at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) similar issues persist.

“I took the media to GPHC to show them that there is no drug shortage, particularly no shortage of insulin yet a few days later I’m being told that GPHC has no insulin,” he shared.

GPHC micromanaging

Norton also addressed accusations that he had been micromanaging the GPHC. He admitted that in some cases he has but added that this is only because he has been forced to.

He singled out the lengthy waiting time before treatment is administered to a patient, delivery of medication to patients, complaints from the laundry department and problems in the kitchen as issues he has been forced to address at the institution. “We have to go and see what is happening. On Christmas Day, we found broken tiles in the Children’s Ward. It was there for the longest while but the minister had to come and ask for it to be fixed,” he said, before adding that as recently as Thursday he had to call and send somebody to make certain that it is being done.

“Isn’t that micromanaging? …It is not supposed to happen but we can’t sit down in the Ministry of Health and allow certain things to happen,” he said, while noting also that he received calls about the rain entering the building directly over the medical clinic and sewage escaping into the space in front of another clinic.

“All the hospital officials passing these things and yet the minister got to call and say could you get this fixed,” Norton lamented. Asked what recommendations have been made to address these situations by a recent investigation into the management of the hospital, Norton said that changes in personnel have been recommended but noted that such a recommendation is difficult to follow.

“We already have two new ministers and a new Permanent Secretary and other new officials; everyone can’t be new. We need some persons here who understand how the system has functioned previously,” he explained.

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