Govt stalling on Medicine reform as death toll rises

Media reports from around the country have drawn attention to the critical shortages of vital medicines in hospitals, health centres and aid posts. These shortages are causing unnecessary suffering and even death – especially among the most vulnerable; young children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and disabled.

All of which could be prevented.

PNGi has discovered that the government has to hand a detailed report setting out solutions that would tackle critical failings observed within the National Department of Health (NDoH) and its private contractors; yet is failing to implement the recommended reforms.

The report, dated 6 November 2017, which is sitting on the Health Minister’s desk, is from a wide ranging ‘special’ audit, ordered by the Prime Minister, coordinated by the Chief Secretary and conducted by the Internal Audit Branch of the Prime Minister’s Department.

The, auditors damning findings, reveal widespread failures throughout the medical supply and distribution chain which, they claim, have persisted and not been addressed over several years.

“the problems of weak institutional capacities, high costs, delays, non-compliance with mandatory applicable laws, errors, and high integrity risks are systemic in NDoH. These legendary issues and challenges have remained unaddressed over the last 4 years causing continued deterioration of [sic] unavailability of life saving and essential drugs to treat patients at the health facilities throughout the country”. [p3]

The report contains details on a specific instance of alleged high-level corruption, widespread opportunities for fraud, overpayments to contractors totalling as much as K80 million a year, and delays in orders and distribution which can last not just months but years. It also reveals widespread violation of proper management and accounting principles within the NDoH and a complete failure to monitor the performance of companies on multi-million kina contracts.

The audit report recommends a number of immediate, short-term and long-term reforms to deal with the most critical failures, including the outsourcing of the procurement function away from NDoH in order to address the ‘urgent need to have an effective and efficient procurement and distribution of medical supply system’ [p3].

Three months later its recommendations have not been acted on.

Specifically, it appears the Minister for Health has failed to make a submission to the National Executive Council seeking endorsement of the reform package, this is despite a draft submission having being written for him by the Prime Minister’s Department.

The Minister and his Health Secretary, Pascoe Kase, have also, allegedly, failed to take any steps to implement any of the most urgently needed reforms, including disciplinary action and reassignment of staff identified as failing in their roles.

These failures are all the more critical in the light of the audits own assessment of the importance of the issues:

PNG’s population depend heavily on medical supplies provided by the government. Almost 99% of them access the health care services provided by the government and cannot even afford to seek alternate paid services from private clinics. This demonstrates how critical the health services funded by the government mean to its entire population. In other words, the government cannot afford to discontinue and/or mismanage the provision of the referred supply chain system, undoubtedly sick people will simply end up dying.  [p6]

Follow the link to read more on the audit findings and key recommendations - http://pngicentral.org/reports/govt-stalling-on-medicine-supply-reform-as-death-toll-rises
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