USD 330M from int’l agencies unutilised – COPE

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It was revealed in the recent Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) meeting that a total of USD 330 million of funds received from international agencies such as the World Bank, World Health Organisation (WHO), and Indian credit line had not been disbursed for import of essential drugs, despite an acute shortage.

Furthermore, COPE Chairman Dr. Charitha Herath pointed out that despite receiving USD 200 million in financial assistance under the Indian credit line facility, by 22 April the Ministry of Health’s Drug Subcommittee had only recommended a stockpile of medical supplies worth USD 55.5 million. It was further said it is only 28 per cent of that grant and by 18 May 2022, only USD 92.9 million had been recommended for invoices.

This information came to light, when the officials representing the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation of Sri Lanka (SPC) were summoned to the COPE on Tuesday (31) to discuss the present performance and medicinal drug shortage in government hospitals as at 13 May 2022 and the measures taken to address the shortage.

Dr. Herath recommended that action be taken to resolve the medicinal drug shortage in the country as soon as possible using Indian credit line assistance and other credit facilities.

Officials who were present at the event said necessary steps are being taken in this regard and that work is presently in its final stages. Therefore, they pointed out that they are working to obtain essential medicines with this money. The officials added that this process was delayed due to the appointment of several ministers during this period.

Parliamentarians present at the meeting said if the necessary administrative decisions and necessary approvals are taken as soon as possible and medicines are purchased with this money, there will be no medicinal drug shortage until mid-2023.

Therefore, the COPE Chairman said US dollars received to prevent the medicinal drug shortage has not been properly managed and used effectively. The Chairman therefore pointed out that there was no shortage of dollars for the purchase of drugs and the issue was lack of efficiency.

The officials who were present also said there was a shortage of rupees in purchasing medicines. The Finance Secretary, who joined the meeting online, said the necessary steps were taken to resolve it as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, doctors have warned that failure to take urgent measure to remedy the depleting medicinal drugs could lead to zero availability of both essential and non-essential drugs.

The Media Committee Member of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), yesterday (1) said by the end of last month there was a shortage of about 20 essential medicines. There was also a shortage of about 120 to 150 non-essential medicines. The state health service is also running out of about 12 to 15 medical devices. There was also a shortage in anti-rabies vaccines, pain killers, antibiotics, cancer drugs, anaesthetics, and equipment of all categories.

He called for timely remedial measures to be taken to resolve the situation. People are able to queue up for fuel and gas while even the electricity crisis can be tolerated, but the lack of medicinal drugs would have severe repercussions on the health of citizens.

“We also focus on preventive care. Therefore, if there are medicinal drug shortages when treating non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the Health Department would have to focus on treating patients whose NCDs were aggravated due to a medicinal drug shortage to treat diabetes, high blood pressure etc,” he lamented.

By Methmalie Dissanayake and Dilanthi Jayamanne