Health Ministry in quagmire over emergency medicine procurement
By: Staff Writer
Colombo (LNW): Sri Lanka’s health ministry has been in a quagmire following allegations of irregularities and corrupt practices in the procurement of pharmaceuticals even under the watchful eye of National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA).
The NMRA has also been accused of overlooking and irregularities for controversial imports of some medicines with the connivance of corrupt officials, informed official sources said
Around 4000 emergency purchases were made by the health authorities during the period of 2019-2022and out of which 285 were corrupt deals, a parliamentary committee appointed to inquire into the medicine procurement process for state hospitals unearthed.
A senior member of the committee said that specialty of these corrupt deals was that these purchases were made after the covid-19 period.
It has been revealed that medicines worth Rs400 per one tablet or capsule had been purchased by paying unrealistic prices of Rs 1950-Rs4000 per each.
Millions of US dollars were spent for medicine procurements from suppliers who were given the ministry level consent although such companies had been black listed sometimes back.
As per Section 109 of National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Act No: 5 of 2015, any medicine or medical device shall not be manufactured or imported without registering with the Authority and obtaining a license from the Authority.
However, the Authority was vested with powers to issue letters of exemption from registration only for special cases such as to save a life, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases or epidemics, at national interest and national security.
The 2021 audit report issued by the National Audit Office on NMRA, reveals how letters of exemption for registration had been issued to the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) and private institutions to import 67 medicines and 140 medical equipment with claims made that it was done due to cancellation of registration, lack of registered suppliers, etc., which do not fall under such circumstances.
In response to the Audit findings the NMRA says that it doesn’t agree with the observation made by the National Audit.
According to NMRA, actions have been taken in terms of Section 109 of the Act, with the approval of the Ministry of Health, in special cases such as to save a life or to prevent the spread of an epidemic disease, cancellation of registration, non-availability of registered suppliers, non-importation of medicines and occurring crisis situations due to shortage of medicines in public and private sector due to the declining trend of registration.
However the National Audit has stated that the procedure followed by the NMRA is against the conditions specified in the Act.
Although as there is no epidemic nor emergency situation in the country at present, questions have been raised as to why the Ministry of Health is continuing with emergency purchases. Officials of the Ministry of Health allege that these purchases are done to enjoy commissions.