Health experts do not necessarily make good budget or financial managers.
That’s one takeaway from the recent Commission on Audit (COA) report that said the Department of Health (DOH) wasted medical supplies worth P7.43 billion last year.
The state auditing agency found medicines and drugs that were “expired and/or near-expiry, damaged, overstocked, excessive, understocked, slow-moving, undistributed, distributed late and/or accepted below 18 months.”
The wastage of government funds and resources, COA said, was due to “deficient procurement planning, poor distribution and monitoring systems, and weakness in internal controls.”
The COA pointed out this was not the first time the Health Department had been called out for the same reasons, since it had expired, near-expiry, and damaged medicines worth P2.20 billion in 2019, P95.15 million in 2020, and P85.21 million in 2021.
“The presence of overstocked and slow-moving inventory items evidenced excessive spending as the procured items comprised [a] volume of inventory far more than what the Centers for Health Development and Operating Units presently need,” the agency said.
Government auditors lamented that “overall, the problem exposed management’s inability to safeguard, manage, and utilize health funds and resources economically and effectively.”
If that wasn’t a bad enough indictment of the health department, the state auditing agency warned that overstocked or slow-moving drugs are exposed to the risk of possible wastage because of poor conditions in warehouses.
Moreover, the maintenance of excessive supplies entails additional costs in terms of manpower and warehouse space which could have benefited the government’s health programs for the poor.
Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa, however, said there are really losses every year, stressing that “a certain percentage of your supplies will really end more than the shelf life.”
He promised that the DOH would look into how they can mitigate the wastage and loss of essential medical supplies.
Health NGOs, such as the Council for Health and Development and the Coalition for People’s Right to Health , are correct in saying that the problems encountered by the DOH in the handling of medical supplies have clearly shown how inequality has worsened and is making life tougher for millions of Filipinos already struggling with poverty.
Indeed, as the two health groups emphasized, when one gets sick and requires medical intervention, the rising costs of medicines can easily drive a family into debt or financial crisis.
If the DOH has to deal with the problem of expired and undistributed drugs year after year, and last year sent P7.34 billion worth of drugs and medicines down the drain, shouldn’t there be accountability on the part of those responsible for the criminal wastage?