Analysis

Analysis: A Look At Our Medical Needs

If you have come across a shortage of medication for chronic diseases, you and Fiji are not alone. The question on drug shortage also made its way to Parliament and
08 Sep 2020 14:34
Analysis: A Look At Our Medical Needs
Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete.

If you have come across a shortage of medication for chronic diseases, you and Fiji are not alone.

The question on drug shortage also made its way to Parliament and a thorough explanation was provided by the Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete.

To understand the issue of drug shortage in Fiji, we need to take a look at what is happening globally, where do we source our medication and what steps are being taken?

Firstly, we all know that we do not manufacture medication locally. We have relied on China and India as our two biggest sources of medication imports.

People would remember that most of China had gone under lockdown since the outbreak of the global pandemic coronavirus. This led to halting of almost every manufacturing plant in Wuhan and elsewhere in China.

From medication to smartphones to shoes, there was a complete stop on manufacturing in China. This meant that for weeks and even more than a month, manufacturing activities were at a minimum. This led to a massive backlog in orders for medication.

Then the virus spread to India. India was under lockdown for months.

Two of our biggest suppliers of medication were not manufacturing any medication and when they started production, they were met with massive backlog of orders.

As Dr Waqainabete pointed out, COVID-19 is affecting everything in the healthcare systems. Global supply chains have been disrupted due to the issues around the loss of labour and the raw materials.

The Journal of Pharmaceuticals Sciences on July 3, this year, outlined the short and long-term effects of COVID-19.

It also highlighted the supply shortages that are being faced in the first world countries and also the second and third world countries, high income, middle income and low income countries.

We all are facing it.

Fiji:

When we compare our figures of past years, we note that in Fiji, abut 20 per cent of the population have traditionally opted for private health service.

But having more than 115,000 people suddenly unemployed meant many of them are now turning to public health service for medical attention.

They are today relying more on free medication given at Government pharmacies.

Stockpiling?

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has already started a campaign with other small states to ensure when a coronavirus vaccine is found, bigger countries do not put the smaller nations at a disadvantage.

The current shortage of medication is a good example of why we need to start this campaign now and not wait for the vaccine to get the green light.

For example, in the United States of America between March 13 and 21, demand of asthma medication spiked by 65 per cent while medications for type two diabetes increased by 25 perc ent. Similarly, medicine for cholesterol, migraine hyperthyroidisms saw an increase in claims.

What was the response by the US and other major countries?

They started instructing drug manufacturing companies to keep supplies in stock for their own consumption and demand first.

One of the countries that Fiji uses for COVID-19 testing platforms has also informed Fiji that their instructions is to stock up for their own use first. This is what we are up against right now.

But while we have also had our own stockpiles, it needs to be replenished which is a slow task right now.

Digitalisation

One of the things Government is currently working on, supported by the Australians is a massive task of digitalising our health networks.

What does this do and what will this mean for our citizens? This network system will be a gamechanger in keeping track of the medication within the health system, will bring about efficiency and ensure next to no wastage of medication.

All nursing stations, clinics, hospitals will be linked up. This will mean that at the press of a button, anyone sitting in Suva will be able to see which medication and the quantity of medication in stock in, for example, Labasa.

This will also mean that if one medication runs out in Nausori, medical professionals will be able to track down which health station or hospital has an overstock and move the medication across faster.

While we have 142 items in the free medicine scheme, anyone who seeks medical treatment at a public hospital is provided the entire treatment for free.

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