APNU/AFC totally responsible for shortages and expired drugs

Dear Editor,
Unable to immediately respond to the stunning revelation of the massive disposal of expired medicines, the Leader of the Opposition, Joe Harmon, has finally resorted to outright fabrications.
Let us be clear: the PPP Government inherited a situation with massive medicine and medical supply shortages. The Materials Management Unit (MMU) at Diamond, in August 2020, was in a position to supply between zero and less than 10% of the medicines and supplies being requested by the regions. Today the MMU is in a position to supply between 81 and 100% of what the regions are requesting.
The MoH has made significant progress in regularising the supply chain, far ahead of the schedule for complete regularisation by June 2021.
Since August 2020, more than $3B worth of expired medicines and medical supplies have been disposed of. All of those medicines and medical supplies were acquired/purchased by the APNU/AFC Government.
The recent disposal of expired medicines had been ongoing for several years, with the accumulated amount between 2016 and 2021 being approximately $10B. The PPP Government has, since August 2020, been engaged in an aggressive procurement programme to ensure regularisation of the supply chain, which had totally collapsed in the last five years. During this aggressive procurement programme, the PPP Government has procured medicines and medical supplies from companies in good standing. None of the companies that have been awarded contracts is on any restrictive list at this time. All medicines have been procured by either selective tendering or open competitive bidding.
After a lengthy period of total silence, the Leader of the Opposition was forced to respond to the disgraceful revelation that almost $10B of medicines and medical supplies have had to be discarded between 2015 and 2021 because they had expired. His absurd response was that all those medicines were left in the system by the PPP/C Government. He also somehow linked the expiration to contracts awarded to Western Scientific, a Trinidad and Tobago-based company.
The Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, is completely “out to sea”, totally misinformed, or absolutely lying. All the discarded medicines and medical supplies were procured between 2015 and 2020. As far as Western Scientific is concerned, and the allegation that Western Scientific was banned by the IDB, Harmon again deliberately misinformed the public. If he was not lying, he was misinformed and he should hold accountable those that provided him with fake information.
Western Scientific has had a long engagement with Government, spanning more than two decades. The IDB’s restriction of Western Scientific from bidding in IDB-funded projects was removed since October 2018.
What is relevant is that, throughout the period in which Western Scientific was prohibited from bidding for IDB-funded projects, the APNU/AFC administration continued to award contracts to Western Scientific. In fact, from a quick examination of the records, Western Scientific was awarded at least 25 significant contracts by the APNU/AFC administration in 2018 (2), 2019 (10) and 2020 (13).
Strangely, APNU/AFC awarded and signed 5 contracts with Western Scientific on May 2, 2020, amounting to $936M. Similarly, in January 2020, they signed 5 contracts with Western Scientific on the same day, worth more than $900M. Even more strangely, APNU/AFC’s 2018 contracts with Western Scientific were signed in September 2018, but the IDB restriction was not removed until October 2018.
The PPP Government inherited many of those contracts, and had to honour them. Those contracts were signed by the APNU/AFC Government, and were awarded through both sole-sourcing (mostly) and competitive bidding processes. If Western Scientific was banned from the procurement process, how come APNU/AFC signed those contracts with them?
Western Scientific has continued to respond to tenders that have been made since August 2020, and has been awarded contracts based on competitive bidding during the new PPP administration.
Since August 2020, no contract has been awarded to any company that is on any restrictive list.
The ill-informed response of the Leader of the Opposition to the revelation that billions of dollars’ worth of medicines and medical supplies had been dumped is an attempt to cover up the truth. It is either that he misinformed the nation because he was deliberately fed with erroneous information, or that he totally lied. Either way, it is irresponsible for a Leader of the Opposition to behave in such a manner.
The truth hurts, but we must confront it. The fact is that APNU/AFC totally mismanaged the supply chain. It is a large part of its failure between 2015 and 2020.
At the time of taking over in August 2020, medicines and medical supplies, including much-needed COVID-19 PPE, were in chronic shortage. The shortages were massive, and the MMU was able only to supply between 0% and less than 10% of the requested medicines and medical supplies. This is despite the Diamond Warehouse and other storage sites had been filled to the brim, but with either expired medicines or supplies not usable in the health sector. Each region was forced to procure, at high cost, the medicines and supplies they needed. The Regions expended all their resources, but were unable to meet their needs.
The MoH has, since August 2020, been regularising the system, and can now inform the nation that the MMU is able to meet 81% of the overall needs of the regional health system, thus reducing the need for RDC procurement.
As indicated before, we are hopeful that, by June, 2021, the MMU would be in a position to meet all the needs of the regions for medicines and supplies.

Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
Former Health