THE Ministry of Health, under the previous A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) government, did not purchase drugs and other medical supplies since 2018, according to subject minister, Dr. Frank Anthony, who lambasted the coalition government for leaving the health sector plagued with deficiencies.
“In terms of drug shortages, we inherited a messy situation where drugs and medical supplies were not purchased since 2018 and that more than a billion dollars’ worth of drugs in the bond had expired,” Dr. Anthony informed the National Assembly on Monday in his contribution to the 2021 budget debate.
In defending the budgetary allocations to his sector, Dr. Anthony said that a decision has been taken to allow for the emergency procurement of supplies that could fulfill the country’s immediate medical needs.
“…we are hopeful that with this year’s allocation of more than seven billion dollars, we will stabilise the situation,” the minister informed. He continued, “These problems are systemic, and while some progress has been made, it would require a lot more work to permanently correct the deficiencies left by the previous administration.”
Dr. Anthony said that other challenges facing the sector include a number of botched and inadequate infrastructural initiatives, as well as a lack of ambulances throughout the country. He pointed to the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, as being “the most famous” of the questionable infrastructural projects undertaken by the previous administration.
“…where more than $1 billion was spent; yet it was inoperable; our government had to fix all the deficiencies, buy all the equipment, and find the staff to make the facilities operable. We were able to start services on September 1, 2020, and to date, we have treated approximately 700 patients,” Dr. Anthony posited.
The Health Minister also referenced the “incomplete” construction of the Ruimveldt Polyclinic as well as the Ministry of Health’s Head Office which commenced in 2017 at the cost of $365 million, with a one-year deadline,
“[It] is still not finished,” Dr. Anthony said. He added that the contractor for the project was paid some $304 million, which represents 85 per cent of the contract sum. Of the payments made, $233 million was paid without any valuation certificates
“To complete the project, we will have to plaster the walls, fix the ceiling, internal and external painting, installation of a lift; tiling, plumbing and electrical works. The contractor has since been terminated, and a new tender for a contractor to finish the job will be advertised shortly,” Dr. Anthony noted.
He went on to address the Primary Health Project, explaining that since 2016, budgetary allocations were made even though no project had materialised in 2017, 2018 or 2019.
“In 2020 when we returned to office, we realised that no work was done on this project for all these years; within months we were able to restart the negotiations with the Exim Bank of India; tenders were advertised, firms that bid were evaluated, and a recommendation was made to contact the company that would design the West Demerara Hospital, the Suddie Hospital and the Bartica Hospital. That would start in a few months,” Dr. Anthony posited.
Additionally, the minister noted that under the United Kingdom (UK)-funded SMART Hospital Initiative, efforts are ongoing to complete the transformation of the Diamond Hospital on the East Bank of Demerara, which is slated to be reopened later in the month.
“…and before the year is finished, we expect to complete the Leonora, Mabaruma and Lethem Hospitals, and the Paramakatoi Health Centre,” the Health minister told the House.
Dr. Anthony said that his ministry will also be pushing assiduously towards strengthening maternity infrastructure across the country. He noted that a new maternity home will be opened within the next month in Lethem, Region Nine.
“We will commission the new maternity ward at the New Amsterdam Hospital later this year, and we will work on the maternity waiting home at Kato and Moruca,” Dr. Anthony noted.
The minister also addressed the Opposition’s concerns regarding an allocation of $99.8 million to equip the National Ophthalmology Hospital in Port Mourant, Berbice.
“To set the record straight, we handed over a National Ophthalmology Centre in 2015, that was doing hundreds of cataract and other surgeries, and in 2020, we received a dysfunctional hospital with broken operating microscopes, where little or no surgeries were done,” Dr. Anthony related.
He said that just about two weeks ago, 15 surgeries were conducted at the facility. “This was more than was done by the APNU +AFC in 2020. We have committed resources to fix the hospital to its former glory, where many more surgeries will be done this year,” the minister noted.
He also reminded of the ministry’s efforts to develop a cancer control programme which will focus mainly on breast and cervical cancers that affect women and prostate cancer in men. Meanwhile, in her presentation, APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, Catherine Hughes used her time on the floor to call for the increase in wages and salaries for public servants, as well as the increase of the private sector’s minimum wage.
Responding to Minister Anthony’s criticisms of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Hughes defended that the facility was transformed into a specialty space, in “record short time”.