Drug Mafia thrived under former Health Minister | Sunday Observer
State hospitals still face shortage of drugs:

Drug Mafia thrived under former Health Minister

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) slammed former Minister of Health, Dr Rajitha Senaratne in back-to-back media briefings held in Colombo last week, claiming that Dr Senaratne was in the middle of medicinal drug mafia, run during the previous government. Secretary to the GMOA, Dr Haritha Aluthge in the press conference held on February 18 said that the said drug mafia can be explained in three main aspects. Severe drug shortage at government hospitals, including the most needed drugs, low quality of drugs, drug mafia and substantial frauds are connected to the drug issue.

Drug mafia

The powerful doctors’ union is said to be levelling these allegations against the former Minister based on an Auditor General’s report, a report by the National Procurement Commission, reports of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority, internal audit reports of the Ministry of Health, COPE reports of the Parliament and testimonies at the special Presidential Commission to investigate into financial frauds during 2015 to 2019.

“We repeatedly stated how this drug mafia was conducted under the blessings of Rajitha Senaratne. In response to that, he sent us a letter of demand about a year ago. We were ready to meet him at courts. But he has not filed a case yet,” Dr Aluthge said. He said that all facts revealed back then are still valid.

According to the GMOA, even the new government has not been able to address the issues in this sector completely because of bureaucratic red tapes and attitudes of certain officials in government institutions, such as the Ministry of Health, the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, the Medical Supply Division and the National Medicines Regulatory Authority.

At a second press conference for the week, Dr Naween De Soyza of GMOA claimed that Dr Senaratne seems to be passing the ball to doctors on charges about the drug mafia. “Dr Rajitha Senarathne says that doctors of the country had a hundred thousand rupees margin from one particular cancer drug. If something like that happened, Rajitha Senarathne can name at least one inquiry he commenced during 2015-2019 as the Minister of Health.

Drug shortage

Now Rajitha Senaratne tries to pass the ball to doctors. We are asking only one thing. If there were such allegations to doctors, why could Rajitha Senaratne not take action against them during his tenure as the subject Minister?” Dr Naween De Soyza asked.

Consultant Gynecologist and Onco-Surgeon at the National Cancer Institute, Maharagama, Dr Sarada Kannangara told the media last week that the Cancer Hospital has been facing a severe drug shortage for years.

“We first revealed the drug shortage at the Cancer Hospital in Maharagama. There was a shortage of more than 30 drugs. Instead of correcting the shortage, the then Minister launched a campaign to harass the officers who revealed that information. He even took measures to conduct disciplinary action against those officers. No steps were taken to meet the drug shortage and instead, certain people were put forward to tell that there was no drug shortage,” Dr Kannangara said. He also claimed that due to the failure of the previous government to settle payments to the pharmaceutical companies, they have abandoned the supply of certain drugs. “Despite attempts of the Minister of Health to prevent the drug shortage, still there is a shortage of eight drugs in the Cancer Hospital. Especially ‘Paclitaxel’, one of the most important drugs given to cancer patients is not available in the Cancer Hospital. The main reason for the shortage is the large some of the due payments to suppliers,” he said. He requested Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi to convene a meeting between all stakeholders to end the drug shortage immediately.

Allegations

Replying to these allegations, former Health Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne told the Sunday Observer that it was he who could stop the drug mafia operated for years.

“I took action against the drug mafia. That is why I introduced price control for drugs. If there was not a mafia in drugs, why in the first place would I introduce a price control? The people benefited to the tune of Rs. 4,440 million due to the price control of drugs according to the medical audit conducted by Prof Galappaththi. That amount was a loss to pharmaceutical companies,” he said. Dr Senaratne said, “There was only one brand submitted by the companies for one drug. The Government had no option other than purchasing that brand. We introduced a second and a third brand to the same drug. For instance, the price of one drug, sold at Rs 280,000 was reduced to Rs.165,000 by the same supplier”.

He challenged the GMOA for their claim that, drugs supplied during the previous administration were low in quality. “If the drugs had quality issues, I want them to name patients with implications after using those drugs in the past five years. It is the GMOA who talks on behalf of the mafia,” he claimed.

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