DOH chief blames warehouse shortage for near-expiry medicines

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 29 2019 09:48 AM | Updated as of Jul 29 2019 10:07 AM

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MANILA -- A shortage in specialized warehouses led to delays in the distribution of P367.158 million worth of drugs nearing expiration, which state auditors flagged recently, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Monday. 

From the health department's national office, medicines are transported to warehouses in the regional level, and later to the provincial level, said Duque. 
However, the number of warehouses, which need to be climate-controlled to maintain the efficacy of medicines, has stagnated even as the health department received more funds for buying drugs, he said. 

"Kung kailangan mo [ng warehouse] ngayon, tatawag ka, papa-bid mo e hindi naman basta-basta available," he told ANC's "Headstart." 

(If you need a warehouse now, you'll make a call, start a bidding process, but it wouldn't be readily available.) 

A Supreme Court ruling that temporarily prevented the distribution of birth control drugs also "contributed to the congestion, to the bursting at the seams of our existing warehouse capacity," said Duque. 

Medicines, he added, cannot be dispensed from the warehouses if there is no demand. 

"Ang gamot parang insurance, kung kailangan, dapat meron. Pero kung hindi naman nagkasakit, alangan namang bigyan mo ng gamot," he said. 

(Medicines are like insurance; if you need it, it should be there. But if beneficiaries don't get sick, it won't be right to give them medicine.) 

Eighty percent of the medicine flagged by state auditors has been distributed to communities where they are needed most, Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo earlier said. 

An ongoing investigation, however, will still examine which officials should be held accountable over the issue, said Duque. 

The health department is also in talks with the Philippine Red Cross to use its warehouses, and has set up a new office to oversee the procurement of medicines., he said.