Punjab Safe Medicine Supply Authority On The Cards

Punjab Safe Medicine Supply Authority On The Cards
The caretaker government in Punjab has decided to establish a 'Safe Medicine Supply Authority' in Punjab, in order to ensure the timely supply of lifesaving drugs and also to mitigate supply of fake substandard drugs across the province, The Friday Times (TFT) has learnt.

A senior official privy to this development informed TFT that the final decision about this would be taken in the caretaker cabinet's meeting.

Officials of the health department gave a detailed briefing to caretaker chief minister Punjab Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi in this regard on Wednesday.

“The act for the establishment of an authority was also discussed in detail,” a senior official privy to this development told TFT.

‘System of procurement, delivery and distribution would be strengthened’

A senior official of the health department told TFT that it is "a wonderful initiative" aimed at improving the procurement, delivery and distribution system. “The health departments need to develop such SOPs which could mitigate corruption and ensure transparency: only then this wonderful initiative would bring positive results”.

Agreeing with this position, a senior doctor at Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) commended Punjab Safe Medicine Supply as an "excellent decision of the provincial government".

‘Medicines should be purchased on quarterly basis, stocked as emergency supply or routine supply’

The RIC doctor, a pediatric specialist, suggested that medicine stocks, or "safe drug supply", should be divided into emergency supply and routine supply.

“Government hospitals should tender for drugs on a 4 month basis because when we deal on a yearly basis most vendors do not supply drugs due to fluctuating dollar prices,” he noted.

‘Channels needed for procurement and delivery of lifesaving drugs’

He was of the opinion that when dealing with vendors on a yearly basis, most of the times, vendors never supply drugs even after repeated calls, causing shortage of disposable items which are essential in day-to-day hospital usage.

He maintained that unregistered drugs which fall in the 'lifesaving' category — like cancer medicines, morphine and sildenafil — should be supplied to the government through proper channels, and a transparent and effective mechanism should be devised for that as well.

“When these drugs are not registered, but they are essential for saving lives, then they are sold in the black market at higher prices. This is unaffordable for the poor masses, and patients who need these medicines always suffer due to unavailability of these medicines,” he said, adding that the establishment of such authority was the need of the hour to ensure availability of life saving drugs in a timely manner.

Assistant professor of gastroenterology at Sheikh Zayed hospital in Lahore, Dr. Asif Raza Zaidi Shah said that it was a landmark decision by the government, and once implemented, a robust mechanism should be devised for ensuring the right medicine gets to the right patient at the right time.

“Subject specialists should be authorised to lead this effort, and they should be permitted to prescribe these medicines to patients based on their specialty, and on constant diagnostic evaluation of patients who need critical care,” Dr. Shah proposed, adding that the establishment of this authority would also help mitigate the procurement of unnecessary medicines in hospitals, which cost millions of rupees each year.

“We are hopeful that after the establishment of this authority funds would be used in an efficient manner and procurement, delivery and supply of drugs would be ensured in a transparent manner,” Dr. Shah concluded.

Speaking to TFT, another senior official said that while the authority looks cogent on paper, the "midnight oil needs to be burnt" in coming up with a foolproof plan to ensure that it works in an efficient manner and delivers the required results. “This would be the actual test for the government and health department, but as a whole, it is a good decision which would help in overcoming the black market for lifesaving drugs”.

‘Federal government must open LCs first’

Talking to TFT, scientist Fatima Hussain Mehdi — who has closely observed the production, procurement and delivery of medicines for decades — said that the Punjab government should first convince the federal government to open letters of credit (LCs) for medicinal raw material, after which comes the supply of medicine. “You can’t supply something you don’t have,” she argued.

Mehdi maintained that at present the federal government opens LCs for 10 days, and then discontinues it for months, due to which it becomes hard to procure raw materials for the production of lifesaving drugs.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.