Editorial: Out of the box on medicines
Judging by, among other things, his sexist trashing of his colleague People's National Party (PNP) parliamentarian, Lisa Hanna, Dayton Campbell knows more than a thing or two about "raw, vulgar politics".
So, he is predictably sensitive when he presumes it to be in the armoury of others and being deployed against him, which is his accusation against Othneil Lawrence, his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) challenger in the constituency of North West St Ann in their argument over Dr Campbell's recent distribution of drugs to ill persons at a community health fair. We'll just say that Mr Lawrence has been silly and ought to begin to think more sensibly.
Dr Campbell is a physician, who is bound by a Hippocratic Oath, and we assume, is practised in the prescription of drugs. At his health fairs, he distributes to patients medication he receives from the charity, Food For The Poor. Mr Lawrence claimed that medication Dr Campbell dispensed were expired, the implication being that people's lives were being put at risk.
Dr Campbell rejects the claim, although it is widely agreed that the products that Food For The Poor donates are close to their expiry date. This is understandable. Its donors make available inventory that is still good, but which they would soon have to dump. That redounded to the benefit of patients to whom people like Dr Campbell prescribe these drugs, which poor Jamaicans otherwise might not be able to afford.
Indeed, we believe that Dr Campbell, a physician, would counsel the patients who receive drugs on the time frame for their use and their diminished effectiveness, or of any potential danger if taken after their expiration dates. Further, we presume that any course prescribed by Dr Campbell would end before the drugs expired.
This issue turns the light on to larger possibilities for the procurement of drugs for large numbers of Jamaicans who often can ill-afford their medication. Sometimes they go without.
EFFORTS STILL INSUFFICIENT
Indeed, we appreciate and applaud such government initiatives as the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme and the National Health Fund, which provide highly subsidised drugs to people at retirement age and younger ones with certain, mostly lifestyle, diseases. The chain of government Drug Serv pharmacies helps in this regard. But even these efforts are insufficient to meet all needs. Pharmaceuticals are mostly expensive.
We appreciate the long, ongoing global conversation over the pricing policies of Big Pharma and the demand for special dispensations for developing and emerging-market countries. But the health concerns of Jamaicans can't await these outcomes or when the country becomes rich.
One possible option, if judiciously managed, is for the Government, as part of its medical procurement, to source critical drugs that are within a predetermined expiry date band, at very deep discounts. If this were contemplated, it couldn't be beyond the capacity of the authorities to match purchased volume and expiry date with real demand, especially in the public sector.
Prescription and dispensation would demand a little more effort on doctors and pharmacists in explaining to patients the facts surrounding these products and the importance of their use in accordance with stated guidelines. But that would be a small price for the returns of curing diseases and improving people's health.