(The following is a commentary written by former Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy)
Even as a frenzy of reports are revealed of dangerous shortages of medicines and medical supplies, APNU+AFC is hiding the truth from the public. Information is now reaching us that the state-of-the-art medical warehouse at Diamond which was built during the PPP’s term in office is less than 40% occupied and the $15M per month “house” baptized as a medical warehouse is still mostly empty, barely occupied with some contraceptives and condoms.
Unfortunately, not only are these expensive warehouses scantily filled, hospitals, including GPHC, and health centers continue to experience debilitating shortages of medicines. This is in spite of the fact that Budgets 2016 and 2017 established new records for the highest ever allocation for procurement of medicines and medical supplies.
Reports of shortages of medicines and medical supplies in the public health sector are presently surging. This past week, doctors and other staff members of the Region 3 Public Health system bemoaned the massive shortages of medicines and medical supplies. Some doctors reported that there are even times when syringes are unavailable for injections. But Region 3 is not an isolated case. Every region in Guyana continues to experience significant shortages of medicines and medical supplies. Last week, reported serious shortages of medicines and medical supplies were also forthcoming from Regions 2,5,6 and 10. Medicines have become chronically short in every public health facility across Guyana.
In addition to complaints from Public Health staff, complaints are also coming from Regional Government representatives, the public and Members of Parliament (both from the PPP and APNU+AFC). There is no shortage of promises from APNU+AFC to fix the system. But with each new promise, the problem worsens. In the meanwhile, APNU+AFC’s Ministers of Health continue to blame everyone else.
In fact, the Permanent Secretary has been made the fall guy for the total failure of APNU+AFC to manage the procurement, storage and distribution of medicines and medical supplies. He has been sent packing, being blamed for the lamentable failure of APNU+AFC in resolving the shortage crisis that has existed for the entire period of APNU+AFC in government.
Imagine a diabetic or high blood pressure patient, a patient with a serious infection, a very sick child and no medicine in the hospital. Imagine a patient in need of surgery or a pregnant woman in need of a Caesarean operation, but the surgeon cannot operate because vital supplies necessary for the safe functioning of the operating room are unavailable. Imagine a blood bank without blood bags and the antenatal clinic without HIV test kits.
These are only some consequences of medical supply shortages and, unfortunately, these scenario are now common in our public health system under APNU+AFC. Shortages of critical supplies, including life-saving medicines and medical supplies are causing a sustained crisis in the public health sector. The shortages include the absence of critical laboratory test kits, like HIV test kits, vaccines like yellow fever vaccines, medicines like diabetes and high blood pressure medicines and antibiotics. The medicine shortages are so grave that often times even analgesics such as aspirin are missing. Patients’ families are now being given prescriptions to obtain supplies at private pharmacies or at private clinics and hospitals. Patients are often referred to GPHC and operation rooms have often been forced to close.
Drug and medical supply shortages directly reduce the quality of patient care, but they also contribute to indirect costs on the system by requiring time and money to be spent hunting down alternatives, rescheduling procedures, or modifying drug usage protocols. Some drug shortages have dire consequences for patients because there are no substitutes. The time has come for the public health system to be provided with the supplies it needs to provide quality care. APNU+AFC has abdicated its responsibility to ensure consistent supply of quality medicine for the people. It is another of a long list of betrayals of their promises for a “better life” for all.