22 January 2016: Media Release – Free Medicine Scheme thoroughly disorganised

Coercing pharmacies around the country to participate in the free medicine scheme by threatening them with $100,000 fines will not meet the Government’s objective of free medication to those earning less than $20,000 per annum.

Instead Government must firstly mount a vigorous awareness campaign urging the many thousands of our citizens living on or below the poverty line as well as those earning less than $20,000 per annum to register for the scheme. This can only be done if Government publicizes the entire list through all print and broadcast media outlets including social media.

It should worry Government that only an estimated 20,000 people have registered since last year. This is mainly due to the lack of awareness and the unnecessarily cumbersome registration process similar to the water and electricity subsidies. The cost of obtaining relevant documentation is a major dis-incentive leading to the perception that the Government is intentionally frustrating the interest of those who need this assistance.

Secondly, Government must provide stock of all 142 medicines to all pharmacies and use persuasion rather than threats for them to participate and also promote the scheme.

Unfortunately, two months after the passage of the 2016 Budget, Government has miserably failed to do this apart from warning pharmacies that their failure to participate in the scheme will result in their being fined a maximum of $100,000 and $5,000 for each day they fail to comply with the Pharmacy Profession (Budget Amendment) Act 2015, which the parliamentary Opposition voted against on 20th November 2015.

This Act once again is a draconian imposition that sets a dangerous precedent in Fiji’s economic and social policy formulation.

It is therefore prudent to ask the Minister for Health to answer if a review was done on whether or not the free medicine scheme successfully met Government’s objectives, and such a review should be made public.

We have serious doubts whether such a review with a view to improving the scheme was done at all. Last year less than 40 pharmacies participated in the scheme. Last year the free medicine list should have included 72 medications. Most pharmacies were under-stocked.

One pharmacy has only 64 medicines from the list in stock from last year. This is 64 out of 142 medicines as the list was increased from 72 to 142. The stock wasn’t fully utilized resulting in the expiry of a few medications. Pharmacies were told that the database of those eligible under the scheme would be provided to pharmacies via computer link. This did not happen. Presently records are kept manually.

Even now most pharmacies do not have the full stock of 142 medicines let alone the list of 72 medicines that were supposed to have been provided last year. Therefore 78 medicines from the list which has not been made public are not in stock. And no trade (branded) medications are covered under the scheme. So is the quality of these medicines tested and certified?

This is a shambolic propagandised policy. The Ministry must get its act together instead of doing roadshows promoting the so-called benefits when their much vaunted assistance is in a chaotic state.
Biman Prasad
Leader
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