Over the past few months, we have heard of basic medications not being available at hospitals across the country. 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. These are only some of the consequences of medical supply shortages and, unfortunately, some of these scenarios have been occurring in our public health system in the last several months. There is a crisis in our health system owing to too many shortages of critical supplies.
The shortages include the absence of critical laboratory test kits, like HIV test kits. Patients’ families are now being given prescriptions to obtain supplies in the private pharmacies or at private clinics and private hospitals.
In several instances, the Public Health Ministry has confirmed that the public health system is experiencing a medical supply shortage.
Regional officials and hospital personnel are on record bemoaning the crisis for months now. At two regional hospitals – West Demerara Regional Hospital and Suddie Public Hospital – a Police probe has been launched in missing medication.
This situation is inexcusable and happening during the tenure of a government that castigated the previous Administration for occasional shortages in the past. But the shortages are now widespread and persistent, although we have had assurances that the problem will be fixed.
During the period 2001 and 2015 when we had annual improvements in supplies and quality of medicines and medical supplies, Guyana utilised a prequalification system for suppliers. In spite of verification and clear evidence that the prequalification system works, in Guyana and around the world, and was recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the then A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition deemed the system as sole sourcing and corrupt and vowed to discontinue the practice.
But now in Government, the APNU/AFC has yet to resolve the issue despite the promise that a better system to procure supplies was at hand. From all that has happened over the recent months, including the scandals in this particular area, it seems that no concrete system has been arrived at.
Whatever the reason, the procurement and distribution of medicines and supplies must be quickly resolved, because drug shortages threaten the capacity for clinicians and Governments to fulfil their moral obligations to patients and society—specifically, to provide benefit and minimise harm and to promote equity. 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, while others may be less important. The time has come for the public health system to be provided with the supplies it needs to provide quality care.