Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Government tackles drug shortage despite forex crisis

 Despite speculations that Sri Lanka would plunge into a drug shortage in about two months, the Treasury has released adequate funds enabling commercial banks to open Letters of Credit (LCs) in a bid to overcome the impending drug shortage.

 But lack of strategy by the Health Ministry and the State Ministry of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals and the inability of officials in the two ministries to give a clear picture to the President and the Government regarding the real situation would only aggravate the situation, informed sources said .  

Dr. R. M. Saman Kusumsiri Ratnayake, Secretary to the State Ministry of Drug Production, Supply and Regulation disclosed  that relevant drug items would be delivered in due course in accordance with the priority list of drugs which they prepared given the critical forex crisis.

“The priority list of drugs was drafted as there was an urgent need of importing multiple drug items with immediate effect. Initially, LCs for four consignments of drugs worth USD 5 million was opened.

Subsequently, the Treasury has given further directive to relevant commercial banks to open LCs so that more drug items can be purchased,” he pointed out.

Accordingly, Dr Ratnayake said LCs for 30 drug items worth nearly USD 8.5 million, which needed to be imported with immediate effect, had been opened and would be delivered to the country in two or three weeks.

“The drugs are mainly imported from China and India while Germany is also one of the countries from where several drug items are imported. 80 percent of the drugs are imported from India,” Dr Ratnayake added.

With banks being unable to issue Letters of Credit (LCs) for imports due to the forex crisis, the country may face a shortage of about 80 medicinal drugs, the College of Medical Laboratory Science Sri Lanka (CMLSSL) warned.

President of CMLSSL, Ravi Kumudesh alleged yesterday (10), that although certain State Banks were willing to open LCs to purchase fuel, they were reluctant to do so for drug purchase. 

He cautioned that the country would be short of about 80 types of drugs due to procurement delays owing to the non-issuance of LCs to purchase the estimated drugs required for 2022.

CMLSSL President said while the USD shortage in the country was a key factor in the reluctance shown by Banks to issue LCs, there is also a question regarding their ability to prioritise on the urgency of requirement. 

The norm is to prepare the estimated medicinal requirement in January the previous year, while the relevant procurement will begin in August the same year (in this instance 2021) following the completion of the tender procedure.

It takes about four months after the LCs are issued to the selected companies to send the drugs, so that the medicine would reach the country and be stored by January, he said. 

Kumudesh said, however, there was at least a four-month delay in the procurement of essential drugs as a result of Banks refusing to issue LCs for 2022.

C urrently, the country’s health service is functioning with medicines purchased during the COVID pandemic.  He warned that there would be a severe drug shortage in the near future without proper management.  

Although the State Minister claims that the Government had pledged to allocate five million dollars to rectify this situation, it would be inadequate to meet the cost of some drugs normally kept in shortage.

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