July 24, 2015: Media Release – Assistant Health Minister should resign

The Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services Veena Bhatnagar should resign her portfolio for her shameful comment accusing the people of ignoring their health and therefore causing shortage of medicine. The Prime Minister should sack her as an Assistant Minister if she fails to resign.

Mrs Bhatnagar’s comments are adding salt to the injury of people who are denied basic medication because of the failure of the Health Ministry to procure sufficient medicine supply. She is an embarrassment to Government.

It is shameful and despicable for anyone, let alone an Assistant Minister to say, “the high demand for basic medicine is because of people’s ignorance to look after their health and this contributed to the shortage”. – The Fiji Times front page, Friday 24th July

We are also shocked to learn from her that medicine supply will normalise next year. This is totally unacceptable. We want to know who is right, Mrs Bhatnagar or her line Minister Jone Usamate when he said “the ministry was working on a major project with other stakeholders to ensure shortage of medicine did not occur again”.

But at the same time Mr Usamate fails to state what is “the major project”. He needs to clarify his statement if people are to believe that medicine shortage will become a thing of the past.

We recall a few months into her role as an Assistant Minister, Mrs Bhatnagar announced that hospital and health pharmacies would open until 10pm daily to supply medicine. This initiative, if it hasn’t ceased, will be a major failure because of medicine shortage, forcing ordinary citizens and those qualifying under the free medicine scheme to purchase medicine from private pharmacies because they too will be unable to dispense basic free medicine due to shortage.

Under the 2015 Budget, an allocation of $9 million was made for purchase of drugs (medicine), $5.7 million for vaccines and $8 million for free medicine scheme. This is almost $23 million.

The people of Fiji have a right to know what percentage of the allocations have been utilised almost 7 months into the year. Basic health is a fundamental right as enshrined in Section 38 of the 2013 Constitution. The Constitution (38)(3) also stipulates the State must show resources are not available if it claims resources are not available to apply this Right.

However in this case the allocation of almost $23 million means there are sufficient funds. We believe the problem lies with the Health Ministry’s and the Government Pharmacy’s procurement and dispensation of supply of basic medicine including supply for the free medicine scheme.

Reports of the Auditor-General for the last 7 years have revealed large stocks of expired medicine and vaccines. Instead of shamelessly blaming the people for ignoring their health, Mrs Bhatnagar should have investigated if procurement and dispensation of medicine conforms to the demand or money has been spent on overstocking medicine, which has expired.

But she chose to ignore this fundamental principle and blamed people for ignoring their health. She must quit immediately or be sacked to save further embarrassment for Government.
Prof Biman Prasad
Leader