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Ministry injects more funds into free meds

Published:Monday | April 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Dr Jean Dixon.

With a drastic increase in the demand for pharmaceuticals at public-health facilities since the implementation of the Government's no-user-fee policy, the health ministry is now stepping up its efforts to better provide for the public.

From the island's public-health centres to its hospitals, the unavailability of some prescription drugs is a grave concern for persons who use the facilities for medical treatment.

However, during a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, health officials set out to assure citizens that this concern was being addressed.

Dr Jean Dixon, permanent secretary in the health ministry, said that in sustaining the free health-care policy, which has made a significant difference to the most vulnerable in the society, the ministry has increased its spend on pharmaceutical and medical supplies.

"That budget has doubled. We are spending about $2.4 billion and, over the last few months, we have initiated a programme that will see us being able to deliver more items for dispensation," Dixon said during the forum held Friday at the Gleaner's North Street, central Kingston, offices.

She noted that, with this initiative, the ministry has managed to secure pharmaceutical supplies at better prices.

"We are very, very heartened by the response of our suppliers to our request for consideration of better payment terms," Dixon added.

Drug types increased

She said the ministry has responded to the growing need for treatment based on the nature of illness, from persons seeking care, by increasing the number of the types of drugs available in the public facilities to 738.

However, the pharmaceutical budget excludes the amount to be spent on antiretroviral drugs.

"The project that delivered care to HIV/AIDS patients is funded externally and the minister of health (Rudyard Spencer) is working assiduously to ensure that we continue to benefit from the new programmes that come on track," she disclosed.

The public-health sector has forgone approximately $1.5 billion in potential income on pharmaceutical and medical supplies out of more than $4 billion that has been given up since the introduction of the free health-care system two years ago.

Dixon said the ministry is also working to improve the inventory-management system which monitors the transfer of drugs from the warehouse to patients.

The Ministry of Health also recognises that the increase in patient load and the demand for drugs has led to a need to shore up the human resources in this area.

Dixon said that to address this issue, the ministry is training pharmacy technicians among other professionals to the tune of $100 million.