APNU/AFC in 5 years spent more than PPP did in 23 years, but medicines still short

Dear Editor,
Unbelievable – APNU/AFC has no plans to address the broken medicine and medical supplies disaster that Guyana faces today. Hundreds of thousands of Guyanese have suffered from the lack of availability of medicines and medical supplies and APNU/AFC has totally ignored this life and death issue in their manifesto, not a single word.
Two days ago, I met a woman struggling with her walking stick outside of the Leonora Hospital. She complained she just left the pharmacy where she was told there is no metformin, a critical medicine for diabetics. Such shortages of critical medicines and medical supplies have become daily experiences for citizens across Guyana the last five years.
Her husband died last year of kidney failure. He often could not get his medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes. They could not afford to buy their medicines from private pharmacies. This seventy-five-year-old woman explained to me she has voted in every election since 1968 for the PNC (now APNU/AFC). She decided not to vote this year.
Not finding any reference under health sector in the APNU/AFC manifesto, I looked under disaster management for proposals regarding the procurement, storage, distribution, the overall supply chain in the health sector because medicine and medical supply in the public health sector over the last five years have been disastrous.
But not a word in their manifesto addressing one of the major lives and death issues facing citizens in Guyana. Medicines and medical supplies in the public health sector has been an unequivocal failure for APNU/AFC. They have been forced to acknowledge this failure. One would have thought, therefore, APNU/AFC ‘s manifesto would address this matter frontally. Instead, APNU/AFC has totally ignored this matter, not a word on it.
APNU/AFC spent in five years as much as the PPP did in 23 years on medicines and medical supplies, $36.7B vs. $36.4B, but shortages at hospitals and health centres have become routine. Children in need of insulin must purchase from the private sector. Hypertension and diabetic patients frequently are told no medicines are available in the public sector. There have been too many instances of HIV, TB and Malaria medicine unavailability.
Operating theatres have been closed because of lack of supplies. Port Mourant Ophthalmology Center has remained largely closed for five years because cataract kits were unavailable. There have been instances of blood bag, HIV test kits shortages. Laboratory tests have often been referred to the private sector because reagents are not available. Vaccines have been in short supply. This is just a short list of the litany of medicine and medical supplies horror story over the last five years.
All three ministers – George Norton, Karen Cummings and Volda Lawrence – forced to acknowledge procurement and distribution disasters, promised to fix the problem. As elections loom, there are major shortages in the sector. What makes the shortages annoying is that APNU/AFC spent more than $36.7B in the last five years, compared to $36.4B the PPP spent in 23 years in government.
APNU/AFC ‘s track record of squandering taxpayers’ money has no better example of squandermania than the procurement, storage and distribution of medicines and medical supplies. One of the most corrupt deals in the last five years was the drug bond scandal which started under the then Ministers, George Norton and Karen Cummings, and continued under Volda Lawrence.
An old house on Sussex Street was rented for $12.5M but was actually $15M per month because the government paid for security, air conditioning, electricity, water and VAT on behalf of the client. They expended more than $400M on this so-called drug bond and throughout the whole period, all that was stored there were expired condoms and an old CT machine.
APNU/AFC granted a number of contracts that flouted all the laws of Guyana. There is the example of an emergency order for $605 M for medicines which Guyana had procured before 2015 at a cost of about $200M and which at the International Reference Price Index at the time of the $605M procurement was $191M. As examples, GPHC paid $6,880 for Aciclovir injection when the average price was $614, and $1,175 for Cefotaxime injection, when the average price was $125, paying ten times more. Why did the government pay ten-times more for emergency supply that then arrived more than six months after?
Right at this moment, the Regions are playing “follow-the-leader”. These regions are violating tender laws and have been procuring medicines for between 20 and 100 times the actual cost. There is a medicine, for example, that one can buy at the private pharmacy at a cost of $13 per pill; the Region 6 health department paid more than $300 per pill. In the auditor general’s latest report, he has documented examples after examples of overpayment for medicines.
Violation of the tendering laws, over-priced medicines and medical supplies explain why Guyana has spent five times what it used to spend on medicines and medical supplies, but receive less. In addition to the sordid procurement of medicines, a system that raises suspicion of rampant corruption, there is the total mismanagement of the warehousing of medicines and medical supplies and the collapse of the distribution system.
The international standards established at one of CARICOM’s largest medical supplies warehouse, the one located at Diamond, built by the PPP, has collapsed. The development of a full-scale dedicated GPHC warehouse which started under my term as Minister and which gradually evolved came to a halt in 2015. The money spent on the Sussex Street drug bond could have catapulted the development of the GPHC warehouse. The New Amsterdam Medical Bond has essentially collapsed. None of the other Regional Medical Storage facilities has benefitted from any investment. So where is the money, $36.7B? Something smells and it stinks all the way to Timbuktu. Yet not a word in their manifesto.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy