The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) is working to structure the process guiding both medical missions and drug donations to ensure the needs of the country are adequately met, according to Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence.
Lawrence made this known following a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting on Monday, where Region Nine’s Regional Health Officer (RHO) Rolan Cho-Yee stated that drug donations by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were mainly responsible for the quantity of expired drugs that were circulated at the Lethem Hospital in 2015.
“There is no prescribed standard in this particular area and I can assure you that right now we are working, we have a draft, and we sent it around so that persons can be able to give their comments to it and we are going to come up with a standard to deal with all volunteerism by the medical fraternity to the country and that includes the drugs that they bring and the other paraphernalia,” Minister Lawrence said on Monday.
“First thing we want to see these institutions writing to the ministry. We want to have some background on these institutions and these groups and then we want to know what it is they’re offering. We must be able to say what they’re offering is a need here or on the other hand we must be able to say what we would like them to give to us and where we would like them to go, and not persons coming here and telling us where they’re going and what they’re doing. We must have a list of things coming out of a gap analysis that will say what are our needs as a country and in what specific areas,” she added.
The minister explained that it is not the case that expired drugs are accepted, but that the drugs may be brought when there are about 3 months left in its shelf life, and by the time they are distributed, they can no longer be of use.
Cho-Yee, after being questioned by committee member Nigel Dharamlall as to why there had been expired drugs at the Lethem Hospital, told the PAC on Monday that most of those drugs were donated from Food For The Poor and other agencies.
A challenge to the management of these drugs, Cho-Yee related, is that donations go directly to the districts rather than passing through the region, so many times he is unaware of drugs that are near the shelf life. According to Cho-Yee, monthly checks are made with the health facilities to assess whether expired drugs are in the inventory.
He said too that ministers would usually visit the regions and distribute drugs, although he could not say whether those are donated.
The RHO related that the administration would stock drugs that have a shelf life of six months to a year, but when he had been asked by Minister Valerie Patterson about the procedure for accepting donated drugs, Cho-Yee related that donated drugs are logged and distributed, and to his knowledge, no approval is needed from the ministry.
Member Juan Edghill emphasised the importance of there being guidelines related to drug donations, as he noted that if the drugs are not on the essential list of drugs usually administered, there is a likelihood of incompatibility, which can have “serious effects” on patients receiving treatment.