Public Health Ministry touts new management system in light of countrywide drug shortages

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Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

The Ministry of Public Health says it is expected to implement a new management system for medical drugs and supplies, countrywide. This will allow pharmacists and other officials responsible for the distribution of medical supplies to reflect a more accountable monitoring system.

Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that there will be more stringent monitoring and record keeping of supplies received and distributed.

The minister said that the stricter monitoring of these supplies can contribute to fewer instances of drug shortages throughout the country.

“We are also almost 99 percent complete (with) the new structure that we will put in place to monitor the receipts and issue and transfers and write off of drugs and gifts received. So I am hoping that somewhere by the end of this month I will be able to present that to cabinet,” Lawrence said.

The minister noted that the system would be rolled out in the various regions to ensure that there is monitoring and that the ministry can capture data on consumption patterns. “So when we’re ordering, we’re ordering based on needs and not just ordering based on some other figures pulled from here or there,” Lawrence explained.

The training and employment of pharmacists will complement the newly implemented drugs and materials management system. “We are also looking at putting some more pharmacists into the system and we believe that is going to help to alleviate the strain because a lot of the issues have to do with persons doing multiple jobs and so you have cross cutting,” Minister Lawrence explained.

According to Lawrence, a shortage of staff is affecting the proper monitoring of the medical supplies system. “So we are trying to ensure that we close those gaps and continue to work with the staff,” she said.

The management system which will be put in place will provide detailed data and guidance on drugs and medical supplies from the stage of tendering to the final stages of distribution and consumption.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health is seeking to train and deploy more pharmacists where countrywide. This will complement the new management system.

In the interim, the ministry is exploring other options of addressing drug shortages in the shortest possible time.

Minister Lawrence said the officials from the ministry have looked at the tendering process noting that some changes have been made. “In the coming week, we are going to have a meeting with all of the suppliers so they can know our new expectations and right there and then the tender documents, I’m told, will be made available so persons can begin to bid,” she said.

The ministry will also be working along with the Pan American Health Organisation World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) to ensure that there is sufficient access to critical and emergency drugs for purchasing. This will be done in tandem with suppliers.

When asked if persons guilty of drug mismanagement will be prosecuted, the minister said that the ministry only intends to build the capacity of those already in the system.

Reports of drug shortages led the ministry to conduct a series of investigations to identify gaps and shortcomings at hospitals and storage facilities.

Lawrence said that the Ministry of Public Health is committed to and  will continue to engage with the Regional Health Officers and pharmacists along with key officials from the Ministry of Community, to ensure that the new management system is successfully implemented in all regions eventually eliminating drug shortages in Guyana.

A doctor explaining to the PSC Committee members some of the problems facing the hospital

Lawrence’s comments comes on the heels of the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee (PSC) on Social Services expressing their intention to summon the Public Health Minister to answer questions relating to drug shortages and the poor conditions, among other issues facing  health facilities that they have been too.

Head of the PSC, Dr. Vindhya Persaud during a visit to the Diamond Diagnostic Centre on Thursday said “the common message we are hearing all the way through is that there are severe shortages. Things like sterile goves, medications, injections, there are a lot of shortages here. So many that they are frustrated because they see the patients suffering, like one doctor lamented that he was not able to control his hypertension and diabetic patients because he cant treat them,” she said.

Peoples Progressive Party Member of Parliament Bishop Juan Edghill in a letter to the Editor on Friday complained about severe shortages of drugs plaguing the citizenry.

According to Edghill “yesterday we at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition were confronted with this reality in a very direct way; two children, juvenile diabetics (type 1 diabetics who have been on insulin all their life and who will always be on insulin), travelled from Lima Sand Essequibo Coast with their mother to the GPHC only to be told that no insulin is available, they turned for help at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and requested that we highlight their case. They further explained that while at the hospital they were informed by staff of the GPHC that insulin would be available in another four weeks (by May 8th 2017), their next clinic date.”

“Herein lies the problem, after a $605 million purchase of drugs and medical supplies by the GPHC and the ensuing scandal of this award to Ansa McAl without any proper procurement process, a vital drug like 70/30 insulin to ensure the health of our citizens is not available at our foremost health institution in Guyana” said Edghill.

He said further “the APNU/AFC promised the Guyanese people the ‘’good life’’. ..Is this the the ‘’good life’’ that will cause this family to expend scarce resources to travel from the Essequibo Coast to Georgetown to obtain this service which should have been provided in the county of Essequibo itself? This speaks volumes to the level of maladministration that is taking place in our country.”

Minister Lawrence, who recently took over the health portfolio from her predecessor Dr George Norton, who was demoted and reshuffled following a series of scandals within the health Ministry, has now found herself in a similar position with the recent and well publicized $605 million sole sourcing contract for drugs and medical supplies to GPHC.

The Public Procurement Commission has since issued a statement saying that it will be launching an investigation into the ordeal.

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