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OECS Health Ministers hold conference in SVG

OECS Health Ministers hold conference  in SVG

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Health ministers from around the region met in St Vincent and the Grenadines this week for a two-day conference to discuss the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Pharmaceutical Procurement Service (PPS), and to develop a comprehensive strategy to help mitigate emerging viral diseases{{more}} – particularly Chikungunya and Ebola.

On Wednesday, October 15, the OECS Commission began its 28th Policy Board and 1st Council of Health Ministers meeting at the National Insurances Service building; where Minister of Health Clayton Burgin assumed the chair.

In regard to the OECS/PPS, Burgin said that the service had achieved much over the last 12 months, despite its various challenges; it continues to be a “beacon of OECS cooperation and economic collaboration.”

Some of these achievements included an annual aggregate cost saving of over $4.3 million; a harmonised medicine formulary of 550 products to promote standardized medical care; comprehensive quality assurance system; and electronic procurement to enhance business competitiveness.

Despite these successes, Burgin maintained that there is still a lot of room for improvement – especially with regard to member states’ payment performance.

“Only 41 per cent of the overall number of invoices was paid within the contracted 60-day agreement, with an unacceptable lay time of 75 days,” he lamented.

Burgin pointed out that as a consequence of such, some suppliers have threatened to impose interest charges on overdue amounts. Additionally, some member states have been forced to purchase directly from suppliers – which results in a higher cost than when purchased through the OECS/PPS.

“It is my hope that these meetings will devise an innovative payment mechanism to sustain the financing system of this OECS/PPS.”

In brief remarks, Francis Burnett, head of the OECS/PPS, echoed the sentiments of Burgin with regard to the service, stating that this year has been the most challenging yet.

“Despite the challenges… we have achieved a fair amount of success,” said Burnett.

Bentley Browne, director of the Social Sustainable Division of the OECS Commission, concurred that although there have been many issues, the OECS/PPS has made significant progress.

“We can go much further,” acknowledged Browne. “We also have interests coming from other neighbouring states to join the system. So, it means that there is something good that we are doing.”

In opening remarks, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Luis de Shong explained that the OECS/PPS is very “complex,” and requires efficient procedures.

He added that it is “…designed to select the most cost-effective, essential drugs to treat commonly encountered diseases, quantify the needs, pre-select potential suppliers, manage procurement and delivery, ensure good product quality, and monitor the performance of suppliers and [the] procurement system.”

de Shong added that in order for the OECS/PPS to continue to meet the health needs of its member states, all objectives must be met.

“Failure in any of these areas is likely to result in the lack of access to appropriate drugs, and also to wastage,” he warned.

Minister Burgin also impressed upon the participants the necessity of pooling resources and developing strategies to tackle not only emerging viral diseases such as Chikungunya and Ebola, but also chronic non-communicable diseases.

He implored member states to “develop a comprehensive multisectoral strategy” to combat these health threats.

“Quality guidelines ensure the right of access to essential medicines, and that they are distributed equitably and without discrimination.”(JSV)