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PPP’s Frank Anthony lambastes govt on drug procurement, HIV/AIDS, TB and diabetes

Opposition MP Dr Frank Anthony

Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Shadow Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony on Tuesday assailed the David Granger-led coalition administration for alleged bad drug importation deals, unregistered importing entities, increased prevalence of HIV/ AIDS and failure to assist the country’s estimated 60,000 diabetics with free glucometers.

Anthony, who is one of his party’s presidential candidate hopefuls for the 2020 general elections, was evidently passionate as he contributed to the 2019 National Budget debate.

Noting that Junior Health Minister, Dr. Karen Cummings confirmed multiple drug resistance tuberculosis (TB), Anthony said that was due to a shortage of critical drugs, inadequate monitoring, non-compliance and sometimes patient poverty. “Many of these patients are too ill to work and with the paltry sum set aside for public assistance, when they do benefit, it is hardly enough for them to survive,” Anthony said. He insisted there were up to recently shortages of TB drugs from the Global Fund.

In the area of HIV/AIDS, he said the disease has been on the rise in certain age groups- the adult prevalence rate being 1.7 percent; 6.1 percent among sex workers and 8.4 percent transgender persons. He  echoed calls by the gay and lesbian rights organisation, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), for government to introduce Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis to help reduce the incidence of the disease among high-risk groups. “I urge the government to implement this most effective way of preventing this disease in the country,” he said. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud has said government was studying the experiences of other countries and organisation in using PrEP. There are an estimated 8,200 persons living with HIV, but 5, 237 are receiving treatment, prompting him to call on government to allocate more funds to treat everyone tested positive.

Dr. Anthony called on the Guyana government to match its words with action in fighting non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. While a glucometer, which is used by diabetics to test their blood sugar levels, costs about GYD$5,000 each, Anthony said government could have easily supplied these to the estimated 60,000 diabetics countrywide. “If we take the money that we had wasted from the Sussex Street bond, we could bought about 65,000 glucometers and give it to those patients.,” he said.

He said the  Public Health Ministry was filled with “stench” on procurement of drugs and other medical supplies, as he alluded to the 2017 Auditor General’s Report that states that ministry had single-sourcing drugs through 13 contracts valued at GYD$91.4 million. “Single sourcing, we know Mr. Speaker, can lead to higher prices for the items because the vendor has a monopoly,” he said.  Contracts amounting to GYD$278.5 million were awarded without bid security, splitting of 11 contracts totaling GYD$82.5 million to four contractors, and GYD$104.1 million in single-sourced drugs  through six contracts without the approval of the Tender Board were among the observations made in the Auditor General’s Report. “The tender board was asked to rubber stamp the transactions after the deliveries were made to the suppliers.  Dr. Anthony cited HDML Labs as possibly being given preference for the award of a GYD$409.4 million contract for the supply of medical supplies instead of the initial contract price for GYD$366 million. “When the contract was audited then we saw how much more was given to this company,” he said, adding that there was a huge gap between that company and other offers. “This is how our money is being squandered and wasted in this country,” he said.

Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence has publicly defended sole-sourcing to fulfill emergency needs for drugs.

However, Anthony, a medical doctor by profession, told the House that the shortages could have been avoided. He said more than GYD$345 million were paid for drugs that were not delivered. In 2015, he said the ministry did not receive GYD$144.6 million worth of drugs already paid for and GYD$67.7 million in 2016 and GYD$133 million in 2017.  “This type of situation, Mr. Speaker, where right now there are shortages in almost every health facility in this country…because she (the Public Health Minister) goes around to the various health centres she would know that so don’t come here and pretend that there aren’t shortages…we know differently and more so what is important the patients know differently,” she said.

Anthony also again demanded that government lays a list of the drug importers that are licensed and registered by the Food and Drug Administration in the National Assembly, a situation he said was a “total breach” of the Food and Drug Act.

Even as the Public Health Ministry completes the construction of a new drug bond at Kingston, Georgetown, the PPP frontbencher accused government of breaking its now one-year old promise to stop renting a bond on Sussex Street, Albouystown from Larry Singh and another at Diamond, East Bank Demerara. He said the Auditor General’s Report shows that GYD$137 million was paid as rent for the Sussex Street bond from February to December 2017, and another GYD$100 million from January to August, 2018. Overall, he said the rental of that bond has cost GYD$250 million.