A matter of life and death: Private sector robs public of medicine [Archives:2007/1072/Health]

July 30 2007

Abdulqadir Al-Emad
For Yemen Times

During their latest press conference, in response to questions about the shortage of drugs in several governorates, the greatest shortage being of insulin, the director of the Drug Fund indicated that limitations in drug availability are the product of a reduction of the Drug Fund's budget from 3.5 billion Yemeni riyals to 1.45 billion Yemeni riyals.

One patient expressed their shock at the director's revelation, stating, “As a patient my reaction is that I am horribly terrified by this news and a person like me is undoubtedly dead either influenced by those declarations in this respect or by actual lack of such indispensable drugs.”

At Thamar General Hospital, several diabetes patients came for their scheduled treatment, only to be turned away due to an insulin shortage. “For three days I came from Yarim and they told me it [insulin] was not available. Both I and my sister are infected and we do not have money to buy this medicine from a private pharmacy,” Nabil Nasser Al-Faqeeh stated, adding, “When I don't use insulin it leaves very bad consequences on my health. Thus, the only alternative here is the private sector with its expensive prices, which are beyond my ability.” He implored concerned officials to have some mercy and provide enough insulin for health centers. Mr. Al-Faqeeh is just one of many patients who are suffering from a lack of required medicine to treat their illnesses.

Essam Al-Shami, a patient in Wesab province, told Yemen Times, “I came to the health center in the countryside to get myself cured. I got tablets that have no positive effect on me because I am still suffering from a very bad stomachache. Tablets are put in small plastic cases and this is not a good way to [package] medicine. Even the way of dealing with such drugs creates my distrust about their efficiency and maybe they are expired because of putting them in plastic cases.” He added, “This is, in my point of view, a result of the absence of supervision and following up by the concerned officials. Through your newspaper I invite and ask the minister of public health to make inspection campaigns and to pay frequent sudden visits to the public hospitals and such health centers. In this way he is going to discover several problems that could get solutions and lead to a better health change.”

Public Drugs Sold to Private Sector

Although there are adequate drugs, many are stolen and sold to the private sector, according to an official source in the Supreme Drugs Authority. The source states that birth control belonging to the Ministry of Health has been discovered being sold in private pharmacies at Al-Jumhori Hospital. There are many drugs belonging to the Ministry of Health being sold secretly to the private sector during distribution among governorates, the same source indicated. Currently, investigation of two suspects is underway. Secret investigation committees have also been formed in Sana'a, Taiz and Hodeidah in order to determine if drugs belonging to the Ministry are in fact being sold to the private sector.

The Problem of Centralization0

Dr. Najeeb Ghanim, ex-health minister and current chairman of the health committee in Parliament confirmed receiving several complaints regarding corruption in the health sector.

Centralization is one of the main causes of this problem, as imported drugs are stored in one central location and not distributed to public hospitals and health centers immediately. According to Dr. Ghanim, delayed distribution increases chances for the drugs to be stolen and then sold to the private sector. He added, “There is a big problem, from which the health sector suffers, [and that is the] sharp shortage of life-saving drugs such as kidneys drugs, drugs for incurable diseases like cancer and cirrhosis and drugs for chronic diseases such as saccharine, high blood pressure and so on.”

Dr. Ghanim has spoken out about the existence of expired drugs and drugs that do not meet property quality specifications. He also indicated that funding for drugs is inadequate, averaging $1.50 per patient. Funding needed amounts to around 6 billion Yemeni riyals whereas the current funding lags at one billion two hundred Yemeni riyals.

Struggle Between Ministry of Health & Medical Companies

During a July 4th demonstration, considered the first of its kind in Yemen, kidney patients demanded that the ministry stop importing “fake medicines,” accusing the ministry of buying uncertified medicine at low costs and then charging patients highly inflated prices.

Minister of Public Health Dr. Rasae accused major medical companies, blacklisted by the Ministry of Health, of devising a campaign against the ministry.

Such conflict between the ministry and medical companies does nothing to solve medication shortages. In the end, Yemeni citizens who rely on public access to such medicine are the ones who suffer.