Volda Lawrence’s mention of 2018 drug tenders sparks controversy

Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence yesterday played up developments in her ministry, boasting that tenders for drug supply for 2018 had already been opened  while PPP/C MP Vindhya Persaud lamented the state of the sector.

Lawrence told the House during yesterday’s budget debate that the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) in an effort to improve accountability and transparency following  recommendations of the Public Procurement Commission and the Public Accounts Committee, has embarked on several things.  This includes the computerization of the pharmaceuticals and medical supplies management system.

Additionally, the Minister noted that in 2018, $ 3.1 billion dollars from the GPHC’s budget will go towards the procurement of drugs and medical supplies.

“Mr. Speaker, for the first time tenders for 2018 have been opened already, this has never happened in the health sector. This is the efficiency that the APNU+AFC Government speaks of,” Lawrence said.

However, Opposition MP Dr. Vindya Persaud in her rebuttal questioned how Lawrence, who was also a past chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee can say tendering has already begun since the budget has not been yet been formally passed.

“Appropriation has not occurred, that is illegal; it is not lawful, Mr. Speaker I am shocked,” she said.

Additionally, Persaud condemned the state of health care in Guyana saying that based on observations made during visits to several health facilities, it is in “shambles.”

“The shelves are bare in the bond; the equipment has not been working in 2016 and there has been a severe shortage of human resources. To date that has not been fixed. Mr. Speaker, to say that things are all hunky-dory and rosy, and all of these things have not been dealt is definitely misinforming the House… We have had the opportunity to visit and see and make recommendations which to date have not been dealt with…. When I am to consider that the minister is saying that the delivery of health care will improve with a new building, are we to assume that all we need is a building and that is the only thing to help us deliver services to the People of Guyana? I say not good enough, not good enough at all,” Persaud said.

Earlier this year, Lawrence had found herself in hot water over drug purchases by the GPHC but has since been cleared in the matter.

During day three of the budget debate, PPP/C MP Bheri Ramsaran said that under the tenure of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) there was massive infrastructural expansion, specifically in the area of public health. However, this does not seem to be the case with the current administration, the MP said, as he accused it of lacking continuity and momentum.

“We are critical of this budget and we frown on it in many areas because there is no continuity; you may spend $40 million on the C C Nicholson Hospital which I personally made a project of my own, but that is puny. We had invested massively, Diamond, Leonora, Suddie, Port Mourant, and Mabaruma, and of course massive changes in Moruca,” Ramsaran, a former Minister in the Ministry of Health  said.

“Where is the momentum? That is what we are critical of…don’t think of only building a $40 million addition to CC Nicholson, we would like to see the 100-150 patient beds at Diamond. You can’t say in your budget speech that you want to protect the Georgetown Public Hospital from pressure and you are going to put a few more beds at Nabaclis.  You need to do what the PPP had envision[ed] and what we were speaking about regularly at this level which was very much known,” he added.

“You need to invest substantially. Mr. Speaker, my constituents have pointed out something, that if you spend money on D’Urban Park, I think it was 71 million on an inauguration campaign and fiesta, you can’t have money to do the real things to go to a higher level, and the higher level would have been providing the East Bank area, a quickly developing corridor, with a full-fledged hospital,” Ramsarran posited.

“That is what we are critical of, not that we are saying what we did shouldn’t be continued, but we are frowning on your failing to have a vision, for failing to have leadership,” he continued.

He also critiqued the administration’s approach in addressing mental health, saying that they are misguided in their decision to separate mental health from the other Non-Communicable Diseases (NDCs). Additionally, he suggested that more emphasis be placed on mental health training at the grassroots level

“We don’t need a mental health institute, we need training at the grassroots, suicides starts with fighting depression at the community level…,” he added.

Lawrence in her address said the 2018 National Budget provides the platform for the achievement of the common good and for the journey of the good life to proceed.

She noted that the Ministry for the period under review has embraced the President’s vision of providing the good life for all Guyanese by prioritizing the delivery of health care and health services in all of the administrative regions in the country.

Further, though the Ministry has had its challenges, Lawrence said it has kept the momentum of focus on goal number three, of the Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to ensure the health and wellbeing of all, at all ages.

In this regard, it was explained that the Ministry has sought to establish a “much needed” Human Resources Department in collaboration with the Public Service Ministry and international partner Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

In the meantime, Lawrence said the Ministry continues to operate efficiently with a small division managing a work force of approximately 3,000 employees.

Another area on the ministry’s radar is the statistical department, which, she said is currently deficient in terms of its human capacity to provide up-to-date reports needed for forward planning.

As a result, plans are underway to strengthen the department with equipment and human capacity so that pertinent information can be accessed in a timely manner and the department can function at a greater level of efficiency and effectiveness.

“It is the ministry’s perception that informed decisions must be made on evidence based data and GHIS [Geographic Health Information System] has been identified as the integrated electronic platform. GHIS will enable standardized and complete documentation of patient’s health information in order to increase capacity for civilians, reporting and decision making activities among others. To date, there has been the acquisition of two programmers with the help of our partners PAHO and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Lawrence explained.

“There will also be a stakeholder’s communication plan to initiate and engage in consultation for e -Health legislation with a view to identify advantages and disadvantages and ramifications of the proposed storage, use and accessibility of the health records. Engagement of two consultants, again with the help of PAHO, and it is expected that the pilot will begin at the East La Penitence Health Centre between December 8 and 14 of this year. Our priority is to ensure that our people’s health comes first,” she added.

Alluding to the projections for 2018, the Minister made mention of several capital projects including the construction of a new Public Health Head Office complex  to accommodate all departments at a cost of $243 million and the construction of a modern food and drug facility for testing food and other commodities to ensure that the items meet  the required standards.


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