It has been a trying few weeks for the Ministry of Health and particularly its chief Executive Officer Dr. Peter Allen, with a wide public rift being exposed between senior staff over the regime for importation of drugs into the private sector and who should be in charge of it.
Today the Ministry opened up its internal working processes for the press and that started with Dr. Allen admitting some painful truths about his management style, with specific reference to Chief Pharmacist Sharon Sanchez-Anderson.
“Now, clearly, Mrs. Anderson and I do not agree. This affects the working environment, but it has nothing to do with the principal objectives and the tasks which need to get done. I freely admit that I have allowed tolerance, but in efficiency and poor productivity. I am human and when I see some people pulling their weight and placing an increased burden on the others in the system, or worse, affecting affecting our patience, let me say that yes, it becomes very frustrating. But to accuse me of somehow having some kind of a vested interest in the procurement of pharmaceuticals, is utterly false”.
Dr. Allen also denied having any personal interest in managing who signs for drugs to be brought into the country privately, only in ensuring that there is quality testing and standards. He explains.
Dr. Peter Allen: “We have more and more requests for permits from providers. We must continue to improve a very complex system and make the process more efficient. All of us here, are determined to root out any possible corruption; we must improve the system we have, but we cannot continue to create bottlenecks. We need to make sure that those dispensed pharmaceuticals in the private and in the public sector, meet all basic standard for safety and effectiveness. One person cannot do it and the needs of our patients must come first. We need a properly staffed and resourced inspectorate with clear published standards for inspection. We need systematic testing with objective guidelines published and standard procedures to avoid spoiled samples and wrong results. We need a drug registry and a constantly updated national drug formulary”.
While the issue is by no means at an end, Minister of Health Pablo Marin says he continues to stand by Dr. Allen as his executive in charge with regard to this issue.
“Definitely, I still maintain a full confidence in my CEO. What we look at the Ministry is always for the benefit of our people. Whenever you see something being stalled, or when this person is not around, or in vacation or whatever you want to cal it and medication is not coming into the country, definitely, we have to find somewhere or somehow to do these procedures to go on”.
But it was telling that the man who sent the email that started the firestorm – Procurement Manager for the Central Medical Stores, Eric Lima, now denies that he wrote in that email that Sanchez-Anderson was on strike. He says he was simply trying to ensure that supplies continued in her absence.
“As being the head of Central Medical Stores, my main focus is to always have availability of our pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. When I heard about the absence of entries not being signed, that raised a red flag and I immediately seek for advice and what can be done because I got called from a few suppliers that they had entries pending an as you know, those medications are always needed”.
Mr. Rudon: “Sir, you are not answering the question. That’s quite a lean from wanting to get entries signed to saying, “the Chief Pharmacist is in strike and refusing to sign entries”.
Eric Lima: “No , I answered your question perfectly because that, I understood…that the entries would not be signed for a period, so, I cannot afford to have medical supplies on hold”.
Mr. Rudon: “Sir, you are not answering the question. Why would you say that “the Chief Pharmacist is in strike and refusing to sign entries? Who gave you that information?”
Eric Lima: “Nobody said anything…nobody said”.
Mr. Rudon: “That is in your email, though”.
Eric Lima: “No”.
The Tenders Committee is responsible for managing the procurement of pharmaceutical and medical supplies for Belize. Its chair, Dr. George Gough, was at today’s press conference and we asked him and CEO Dr. Allen about information we received that two Cayo companies were being favored for contracts.
Here are the responses of Dr. Allen, manager Lima and Dr. Gough, who touted the success of the current formula.
CEO Peter Allen: ‘There is really no political involvement in our tender process. Again, prior to 2008, remember there was no tender process. Now, you see an open tender and we have invited you and we still invite you to see the tender process walk through it with us”.
Eric Lima: “I must say that not only Cayo companies have contracts with the Ministry of Health. We have approximately 20 companies that have signed contracts with the Ministry of Health, Brodie’s, being one 0f them”.
“We have gone through, I think four to five tenders and in every tender you can see that the basic structure, basic points to be able participate has been done in an open and transparent function. The structures are based on the drugs import, on the quality of drugs, their certificate of manufacturing…basic structures that we fight for. We are aware of different structures of interest, but we try to navigate and try to be fair, thinking always of our patients. Then, to conclude within the process, I think we must say this because we need to walk away with this; the same amount of money that has been assigned to buy pharmaceuticals in 2008, is the same amount we are spending in 2014 to buy pharmaceuticals in every tender, and there has not been any shortages”.
Under previous CEO Henry Anderson the Ministry used a maximum price contract beginning in 2004 which was an open process and the results published, particularly the prices awarded.