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Health Ministry commences drug sourcing and distribution review

Health Minister Dr. George Norton

by Zena Henry

The Ministry of Health is about to revamp the mechanism for purchasing pharmaceutical supplies, a move that would eventually quell concerns about controversial awarding of contracts to solely  the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC).

 “There is no competitive bidding… that is one area we want to take away,” Health Minister Dr. George Norton told Demerara Waves Online News in an exclusive interview.

Amid much controversy last year, including litigation against government by International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA) and formal complaints by ANSA McAL, the NGPC was listed as the only prequalified company to supply drugs to the public health system. This is for the 2014 to 2016 period and has so far seen the company being awarded contracts in billions of dollars.

Concerns have been raised in the past that the NGPC has been favoured because one of its principals is Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramrroop, a close friend of Bharrat Jagdeo during and after his presidency.

The newly appointed Minister of Health explained that one of his Ministry’s main focuses is to re assess the quality and amount of medication coming into the country. He said that it would mean undertaking a review that would possibly lead to scrapping of the executive advantage the company once enjoyed under the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led administration.

 “There is no doubt about the fact that we have got to start taking into consideration the manner of acquisition and distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies… (New GPC) operated first on a Cabinet order, but it was changed and they (government) put ‘Pre-conditioned’… and that pre-qualification was such a nature that he (Ramroop) had the advantage over everybody else,”he said.

“We believe in a creating a leveled playing field… and of course there are certain conditions that one must have,” he went on add.

 Norton insisted that drug acquisition and distribution is a serious area since concerns were raised, “about the fact that a large quantity of expired drugs appears in the country, while there is the issue of drug shortage and those drugs with short shelf life.”

Norton informed that he has proposal documents for revamping compiled by specialists and will access the recommendations made and act as necessary.

He said that the ministry of health recently finished a project which speaks to methods of acquiring medication, medical supplies and its distribution. Norton said that the public health body is now tasked with evaluating the proposals and would most likely work along with it. ““We already have hard copies of some proposals made by specialist persons who worked in the system.”

There has been no direct contact with the NGPC, the Health Minister related, but according to the last contract signed, NGPC, is still responsible for certain aspects of the acquisition and distribution of medications.

Norton said that certain contracts would be returned to the tender process, but noted that given the possible legalities involving NGPC’s contracts, they would have to be accessed before any concrete decisions are made.

Answering questions about overpriced medication, Norton said that could only happen, “when you have sole sourcing.” “There is no competitive bidding… that is one area we want to take away.” Norton agreed that there are different costs of medication, “depending on the country where you buy it or where it is made.” He pointed out that a drug made by a pharmaceutical company in the US does not mean the drug will have the same cost even if it is made by the same company, but based in Brazil.

He reiterated that sole sourcing and other one sided mechanisms could lead to failures in the acquisition and distribution of medical items. He said ensuring that all drugs into the country are labelled in English, is just another part of improving  the system.