How did the drugs shortage start?

THERE’S one thing Solomon Islands is known for – getting things down even at the last minute.

The recent two-week MACFEST event is a case in point. Work did not start until two weeks before the $7 million cultural bonanza begun. Perhaps it was not the best, but it took place.

Many visitors from our Melanesian neighbours were delighted. It is the way to be. So congratulations to all who helped contribute to its success. I am sure there have been lessons learned for the next one.

So well done for a great job.

In a way it was a relief that our visitors left before the drugs shortage debacle hit us.

Given there were no outbreak of some sort, we can assume the situation would be handled without any difficulties.

The drugs crisis provided an opportunity to begin the soul-searching within. How did it start? Was it allowed to reach the point we were in before authorities were aware of it?

In many countries, the situation would have been unforgiveable. Heads would have rolled, a massive clean would have ensued and total respect for patients’ well-being would have been slowly but surely restored.

It reminds me of a story I read a long time ago. A large company in Europe bought an engine which was installed in a factory. Sometime later the engine broken down, causing a lot of anxiety amongst staff.

There were exchanges of letters between the company and the head office of the firm that sold the engine. After searching the company records, the name of a young man came up as being the person responsible for installing the engine.

He was sent to fix the engine. But his arrival did not get the sort of reception expected. Many were asking how this tiny little fella was going to repair the engine.

Within days, the engine was firing.

There is a lesson in all of this. It’s no good rushing with the blame game, although I must admit, I was among those who were calling for the head of the Minister of Health and others.

In my mind, how could they allow such a situation to develop to saturation point? We had never ever experienced drugs shortage in this country before.

Naturally, the first reaction is to show the individuals the door. On second thought, it was good to give the guys who were responsible for the life-threatening situation to deal with it.

They know what to do. They know where to get it. They know what is needed, some urgently, others not so urgently. So there are merits in keeping them.

However, they must be given a clear and precise instruction as to what needs to be done to avoid a repeat in future. It is important that those on the frontline of defence, in this case in our healthcare system, must be sharp and clear about why they are there in the first place.

The terrifying ordeal which has been linked to some deaths at our National Referral Hospital must never be allowed to happen again ever. It merely shows lack of planning on the part of those dealing with the procurement process.

There’s disturbing reports that alleged theft of drugs from the Medical Store and the hospital pharmacy contributed substantially to the shortage. If there are merits in this rumor, it must be investigated.

Thieves should never be allowed to work in important institutions such these, especially institutions that are dealing with life and death. If anyone who deserves to be given the marching orders, it is those found to be stealing the drugs.

By Alfred Sasako

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