Drug shortages caused by change in procurement system – Norton

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton examining the limited drugs available at the Wakenaam Cottage Hospital
Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton examining the limited drugs available at the Wakenaam Cottage Hospital

By: Devina Samaroo

Public Health Minister Dr George Norton indicated that the change in the procurement system is probably the likely cause for the drug shortages being experienced at certain public health facilities across Guyana.

Since the beginning of the year, reports have been surfacing of a massive drug shortage in the public health system.

In January, Georgetown Public Hospital’s (GPH) Chief Executive Officer Allan Johnson said cash-flow

A new drug procurement system was introduced earlier this year
A new drug procurement system was introduced earlier this year

problems at that institution resulted in a shortage of drugs.

The Diamond Diagnostic Centre’s Medical Superintendent Dr Michael Pereira had also registered concerns about the drug shortages at that institution.

Region Three Regional Chairman Julius Faerber had also complained of the massive drug shortages plaguing the region.

During a visit to several health facilities over the weekend, hospital staff informed the Public Health Minister and team that there were drug shortages.

At the Wakenaam Cottage Hospital, the relatively new staff disclosed that the health facility has been lacking basic essential drugs from the time they were dispatched to the area, which is some three months ago.

Pharmacist Dolly Softly said basic drugs such as Panadol and Paracetamol have been unavailable, while other drugs are expired or nearing expiration. In fact, it was highlighted that the current batch of insulin will be expiring today.

Prompted on the reason for this shortage, the doctors explained that the drugs would finish fast because there would be an influx in the number of persons coming in for treatment.

They explained that they would make requests for more supply, however, none are forthcoming or it usually takes a long while before the drugs arrive—this causes the influx of persons.

Regional Health Office Dr Shawn Bancroft explained that in most cases, drugs are stored at the West Demerara Regional Hospital since the demand there is higher.

“We are unable to distribute it to all health facilities, we kept most for the inpatients and send the small amounts to the other hospitals,” he stated.

However, Minister Norton said it appears persons are just making excuses and urged the authorities to manage the health systems more effectively and efficiently.

“Persons have become complacent and taking things for granted… requests were made but nothing seems to be done, nobody seems to be concerned at the level of the region that things were requested and not delivered,” he lamented.

Dr Norton said he will take steps to work closer with the Communities Ministry, which to a larger extent is responsible for the regional health system, to address the problems.

“I know that’s a large ministry and they’ve got so many on their plate, this is not to say that we don’t have either but I am not going to depend on the region to do everything… we have to do this together, and I would keep in communication with medical professionals in the centre so I can do my part as well,” he stated, hoping that by yearend most of the issues will be rectified.

“I hope the shortage we are experiencing now, because of the change in the procurement system, would become available to the public in a timely manner and in sufficient quantities,” he stated.

Earlier this year, the Public Health Ministry introduced a new system for procuring of drugs and medical supplies with the aim of enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the drug supply chain in the country.

This was accompanied by several changes in the bidding documents which were intended to create a more level playing field among competitors.

Reports have explained that the changes saw each region submitting to central government, a list of drugs needed and the total sum required to make the purchases. Monies will be warranted back to the Public Health Ministry from the Regions to facilitate a centralised procurement.

Initially, this current administration had mandated that the drug purchases be done at a regional level.

However, the process was later changed after some $600 million was returned to the treasury, owing to the incapacity of the regions to source their own supplies.

The current procurement system gives each region its independence to source the drugs from its preferred supplier as opposed to central government making bulk purchases.