NEWS: Forensic audit launched into drug procurement system

Amid growing concerns about the procurement process used to purchase drugs, medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, a forensic audit with support from the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) has been launched.
A statement from the Public Health Ministry on Tuesday said the forensic audit is also being conducted to address complaints into the quality of drugs, and allegations of shortage of drugs.
Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence who met with the PAHO/WHO team, which included Professor Jaime Espin Balbino of the Andalusian School of Public Health, Regional Health Ministry on Tuesday, admitted that the issues are widespread and require expert advice and attention.
“I found that it (the procurement process) was a bigger issue than I thought… I didn’t think it was as bad as I found it (but) this is the beginning of the process” of regularising operations in the wider health sector,” Lawrence said.
Although the current system allows for both internal and external audits, the Minister said an independent assessment is required to help plug all “existing gaps” and boost the system. Lawrence also reminded the audit is meant not to interfere with those who hold responsibility for procurement.
But Minister within the Public Health Ministry, Dr Karen Cummings and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Collette Adams, wants the procurement process demystified.
Part of the de-mystification Cummings has called for, will entail overcoming some managerial and policy shortcomings, non-implementation of plans of action crafted by the Ministry.
Concerns were also raised about the scarcity of information from the public health sector which can impact negatively on the forensic audit efforts and shortage and hoarding of medication by patients.
While it has been generally agreed that Balbino is best suited to conduct the audit based on past experience in other countries, it was noted that the process may be unnerving.
Adams said immediate result recommendations and implementation should not be expected, since several consultations will have to be undertaken. It was also noted that while the goal is to modernise the Ministry and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, it must be accompanied by the financial backing and competent human resources.
Balbino said managers of the Guyanese public health sector must continue thinking long-term but remember that “more data, better advice,” Balbino said.
“You are doing well (but) you can improve,” Balbino told the MOPH and GPHC teams.
The forensic audit is expected to provide the roadmap for the future to remove the existing “vast deficiencies in knowledge and manpower” which currently hamstring both institutions.
Since the beginning of the year, reports have been surfacing of a massive drug shortage in the public health system.
Earlier this year, the Public Health Ministry introduced a new system for procuring of drugs and medical supplies with the aim of enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the drug supply chain in the country.
This was accompanied by several changes in the bidding documents which were intended to create a more level playing field among competitors. Following the massive shortage of drugs in the country, the then Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton admitted that the change in the procurement system is probably the likely cause for the drug shortages being experienced.

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