After more than a year of chronic drug shortages, the prime minister has asked the health minister for a report on the problem. I’m surprised. Hospitals throughout the country have been facing a serious shortage of drugs for more than a year. The problem has been widely reported and analyzed by the media. The opposition party questioned the government during the 7th session of the Parliament. And the National Council questioned the government during the 8th session.
So I’d have thought that the prime minister would be well aware of the problem. I’d have thought that would have discussed it thoroughly in the cabinet, and that he would, in fact, have already decided how to address the problem. It looks like I am wrong. The prime minister still does not seem to understand the extent of the drug shortage problem. That’s why he’s only now asked for a “comprehensive report”.
The pubic, however, has a fairly good idea about the extent of the drug shortage problem. That’s because most people, at one time or the other, and especially the poor, have suffered because of the shortage of drugs in our hospitals. That’s also because the media have done a remarkable job in keeping us informed about the problem. Here, as an example, are links to stories that just one of our newspapers, Kuensel, has published on the issue of drug shortages.
- Health centers run out of iron tablets, some for almost a year. 19 October 2010
- Thimphu hospital runs out of life saving drugs. 1 January 2011
- Drug Regulatory Agency asked to relax rules. 10 January 2011
- Emergency order placed for 101 essential drugs for Thimphu hospital. 11 January 2011
- Drugs arrive after 2 weeks of shortages. 18 January 2011
- Problems distributing drugs to district hospitals. 19 January 2011
- Irrational prescription leads to drug shortages. 20 January 2011
- Why it takes so long to distribute drugs. 29 January 2011
- Tendering process caused drug shortages. 10 November 2011
- Kolkata liaison office helps send drugs. 10 November 2011
- Drug shortage rears its ugly head again. 22 November 2011
- New procurement system adds to drug shortage. 23 November 2011
- Yangtse hospital out of drugs. 26 November 2011
- Health ministry team to buy drug directly from manufacturers. 21 December 2011
- Health ministry does not know what’s causing drug shortage. 22 December 2011
- Some health officials blame McKinsey’s ABSD project for drug shortages. 24 December 2011
- Understanding the drug shortage problem. 12 January 2012
- Patients miss anti-rabies shots. 15 February 2012
- TB patient complains to PM about drug shortage. 1 March 2012
- Heart patient dies. 7 March 2012
Yes, a heart patient has died. The health ministry has defended itself, claiming that the heart patient had died because of other complications. But her parents insist that she died because she didn’t have medicine. They insist that their daughter died because of the shortage of drugs.
The health minister has not accepted responsibility for the death of the heart patient. But, like it or not, he has to accept responsibility for the overall drug shortage. Like it or not, he has to accept responsibility for the suffering caused to countless patients throughout the country. Like it or not, he has to accept that he is unable to solve the drug shortage problem, a problem that emerged during his watch.
The prime minister should read the health ministry’s report that will, no doubt, blame ACC and RAA and DRA and suppliers and others for the perennial drug shortage. But he should also read what the media has reported, consistently and conscientiously, during the last year. And he should listen to the many stories of suffering that patients have had to endure.
And then he should do what’s right: ask the health minister to step down.