Dr Biman Prasad –
The Fijian government’s ‘Free Medicine Scheme’ has had a chaotic start with those eligible to access the scheme shocked to learn that not all medication is available and that only selected medication can be dispensed by pharmacies.
Our investigation has also revealed that some pharmacies listed by the Assistant Health Minister as outlets were unable to provide this service because of bureaucratic red tape.
The vicious circle
Patients visiting hospitals have also been affected by lack of medication as supplies to be delivered to hospitals have been sent to local pharmacies.
Many pharmacies are unable to process the scheme due to non-availability of medicines and delays in linking their IT system with the government to record details of dispensation of medicine. It is highly likely that medicines with limited expiry dates will become unusable, resulting in wastage of taxpayers’ funds.
Already insulin, used to treat diabetes, is not available in pharmacies as a part of the Free Medicine Scheme because some of the stock has expired.
We have cited a list of free medicines that eligible patients can source from pharmacies.
The initial list of 62 items has basic generic medications that are bulk-purchased by the Fiji Pharmaceutical Services.
Pharmacies have made it clear to patients that the list of items does not have any branded items, and hence they are not responsible for the quality of the products or any shortage.
Basic medication for children like Panadol Elixir or antibiotics administered to babies and children orally like Amoxicillin, Ceclor and Augmentin are not covered under the scheme.
The Health Ministry should publicise medicinal products available under the scheme. More importantly, it should assure the public about the quality and standard of the medication and whether it is sourced from a reliable and accredited supplier.
This is vital because the list has antibiotics as well as tablets for non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.
Dr Biman Prasad is Member of Parliament and Leader of the National Federation Party in Fijian Parliament.