Headline — 08 August 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
What the heck is going on in the Ministry of Health?

There is a shortage of pharmaceutical supplies countrywide

DANGRIGA, Stann Creek District,  Fri. Aug. 3, 2018– Earlier this week, Ministry of Health officials confirmed that there is a shortage of critical pharmaceutical supplies in the country’s hospitals. All hospitals have been affected by the shortage/depletion of their supplies, but in the south, the Southern Regional Hospital and the Independence Village Polyclinic are said to be the hardest hit by the shortage.

Although no less than the Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, has confirmed the shortage in remarks he made to Belize Breaking News on Thursday, the Southern Regional Manager, Dr. Nyreese Castro (a daughter of Minister Edmond Castro) told us this afternoon in her office at the Southern Regional Hospital that there is no shortage of supplies affecting the hospital.

We asked Dr. Castro how the hospital’s patients were coping with the shortage, and in the presence of two hospital employees, one of whom appeared to be hesitating before agreeing with the Regional Manager, she asserted that “everything is alright. We have no problems here.”

Notwithstanding Dr. Castro’s denial that the Southern Regional Hospital is suffering like the rest of the country’s hospitals from a shortage of critical supplies, there are other staff members and nurses at the facility who are more forthcoming.

A nurse we met on the hospital’s compound who understandably spoke to us on condition of anonymity pointed out that some often prescribed antibiotic medications have run out and when patients go to the hospital’s pharmacy, the medication that the hospital has run out of is underlined on the patients’ prescriptions.

As an example, a nurse pointed out that the hospital does not have the antibiotic Ceftrim, which is used to treat bacterial infection in various parts of the body. She also noted that two other antibacterial drugs that the hospital has run out of are Azithromycin and Cloxacillin. Additionally, they have depleted their supply of the drug Azithromycin, used to treat certain kinds of sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and some bacterial infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

While there is a scarcity of those antibacterial drugs, the hospital has also run out of drugs to treat hypertension. It is reportedly not possible to fill a prescription for a basic over-the-counter drug like Tylenol at the pharmacy of the Southern Regional Hospital.

Another source at Southern Regional Hospital told us that patients are sent away with the majority of drugs on their prescription unfilled by the hospital’s pharmacy.

We have sent text messages to both the Director of Health Services and the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, but up to press time they have not responded to our question about when the shortages are expected to come to an end.

In a telephone interview with Plus TV on Friday, however, the Ministry of Health CEO, Dr. Ramon Figueroa, also weighed in on the shortage plaguing the country’s hospitals.

Dr. Figueroa confirmed that there is also a shortage of bandages, gauze and syringes. Dr. Figueroa told Plus TV that “the Ministry has been facing problems with receiving supplies because contracted suppliers have been slow in bringing in certain items.”

He added that the Ministry of Finance has been slow in approving funds to make purchases that will satisfy the shortage temporarily.

Dr. Figueroa explained, “We have some limitations in medical supplies [nationwide], not pharmaceuticals, because the article was referring to pharmaceuticals and as far as I know, we don’t have one or two things that maybe we are short of, but we have alternatives for it, for medication usage. So we don’t have a problem with medication. I understand that we have some problems with some medical supplies like gauze, bandages, and syringes. There are certain things that were alerted to us being short in, for example, gauze. We had sent requests for finance for us to purchase the interim so that we can bridge the gap until the supplier brings those things, and we have purchased some items. Now there are other requests that are being held up at the Ministry of Finance which are waiting approval for us to purchase outside the normal sender process so that we could wait until the supplier delivers what they were supposed to deliver. As far as I know, that is the situation.”

Dr. Figueroa told the station’s reporter that as recently as Friday morning, he made contact with the Ministry of Finance to inquire when funds are expected to be approved to make purchases. Dr. Figueroa also stressed that the Ministry of Health is applying pressure on the provider to speed up the process and the Ministry has also sought permission from the Ministry of Finance to source the supplies from outside the normal source.

The Health Ministry CEO also pointed to managerial problems at the Central Medical Store, located in Ladyville.

“Sometimes, we are alerted to the shortages a little bit too late. Sometimes, we are not alerted to the fact that we have a certain amount of supplies and the fact that we need to urgently procure [what we need]. I think sometimes we are alerted a little bit late, that’s all I can think about,” Dr. Figueroa said.

When he was asked how would that problem be addressed, Dr. Figueroa, replied: “I said before that we are looking at trying to establish a proper inventory and distribution system, so that we have an alert system that will tell us, ‘listen we only have a three-month stock, a two-month stock, and we have a one-month stock’. Those critical inventory type systems, that’s what we are looking to have, but it’s not as easy as one would like to think.”

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