More than ever, low-cost, generic pharmaceutical drugs are flooding Belize. But how good are they, and who's checking? Well, in the private realm, no one is really or regularly checking; Belize just doesn't have the capabilities for that.

But, in the public sector there is a Drug Inspector, and a newly appointed director of the drug inspectorate. Still, when you go to a public facility, what controls are in place to make sure the drugs you are getting are effective and properly screened for your safety? Some concerns have been raised about that recently - and that's become a public relations emergency for the Ministry of Health - because public confidence in the supply of pharmaceuticals is central to a functioning health system. So, they held a press conference today to assure the public that the public system is intact, transparent and legitimate. Still, though, the backbiting and personal differences in the Ministry that brought the issue into the forefront of public attention in the first place overshadowed today's event. Here's our report:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
Today the Ministry of Health gathered all the major players from the public pharmaceutical supply chain to explain that nothing untoward has happened with the process.

The public furor they are now trying to contain arose when this email went out in April during Chief Pharmacist Sharon Anderson's sick leave. The first stone was thrown in an April 11th email from procurement manager Arik Lima - and today he explained his concern:

Arik Lima, Procurement Manager - Central Medical Stores
"My main focus is to always have availability of pharmaceutical and medical supplies. When I heard about the absence of entries not being signed that raise a red flag. I immediately seek for advice on what can be done because I got calls from a few suppliers that they had entries pending and as you know those medications are always needed. I understood that the entries would not be signed for a period, so I cannot afford to have medical supplies on hold."

Mike Rudon, Ch5
"Sir, you are not answering the question. Why would you say that the chief pharmacist was on strike and refusing to sign entries?"

Arik Lima, Procurement Manager - Central Medical Stores
"Nobody said anything."

Mike Rudon, Ch5
"That is in your email though?"

Arik Lima, Procurement Manager - Central Medical Stores
"No."

Mike Rudon, Ch5
"So that is not....."

Dorian Pakeman - Host - Press Office
"Thank you Mr. Rudon, you two question limit has been reached."

Mike Rudon, Ch5
"No man Dorian, please man. That is being ridiculous now."

And while Lima froze when confronted with the facts - the CEO was determined to take over a narrative that his ministry has lost control of. He explained why he sent an email accusing Anderson of holding the system ransom:

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"And just because someone is sick or away from their desk we really cannot close down the national system."

Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health
"When this person is not around or on vacation or whatever you want to called it and medication is not coming into the country definitely we need to find someone somewhere and somehow to allow this kind of procedures to go on."

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"There can be no real issues with multiple signatories for the entry of medical supplies certifying that the item being imported are as per contract terms or part of a list for duty exemptions. There is no technical issue here and of course any accusation that it supports special favors for anyone can be met with the argument of having only one person with such power is worse. But really, why should there be only one person authorized in the entire country to sign something which is clearly no technical or related to any type of inspection of good. Adding others only adds to the efficiency of the system."

And from there he disclaimed any interest:

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"But to accuse me of somehow having some kind of a vested interest in procurement of pharmaceuticals is utterly false, to undermine the integrity of the supplies management process is also simply unfair. The accusation that I actively trying to gain authority to sign for the importation of control drugs is false."

But what he did actively tried to do is throw the Chief Pharmacist under the bus:

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"Now clearly Mrs. Anderson and I do not agree and this affects the working environment, but it has nothing to do with the principle objective and the task which needs to get done. I freely admit that I have a low tolerance for inefficiency and poor productivity. I am human and when I see some people not pulling their weight and placing an increased burden on the others in the system or worse affecting our patients. Well, let me say that yes, it gets very frustrating."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, you spoke about your relation with Mrs. Anderson that it's not the best. Mrs. Anderson, I know that you have for example taken her out of a meeting sponsored by the US Embassy on precursors. You called and said that she is not authorized to attend that meeting. You embarrassed her as a professional."

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"I don't recall. I am sorry."

Jules Vasquez
"I know also that she was embarking on a precursor raid in Cayo and you called her back or a search of a facility - raid is too grand a term, and you recalled her. You have a style I am told of micro-managing."

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"Inspection is normally the prerogative of the inspectorate."

And while there is dysfunction in that relationship - the authorities stressed that there is none in the public supply of quality pharmaceuticals:

Dr. Peter Allen, CEO - Ministry of Health
"Any insinuation that my office has stop testing is false."

Samira Gongora, Senior Pharmacist Central Medical Stores
"We run tests all the time of the medical supplies. We get in a lot of quality assurance product card and that is submitted to us and based on that we send for testing."

Reporter
"What was the last time?"

Samira Gongora, Senior Pharmacist Central Medical Stores
"That was last year and the batch was removed."

Reporter
"The last time that a standardize testing was done, like a routine testing was done - when was that and what was the result of that?"

Samira Gongora, Senior Pharmacist Central Medical Stores
"That was in 2012 through NHI."

Reporter
"What was the result of it?"

Samira Gongora, Senior Pharmacist Central Medical Stores
"There was no results. The item was lost in Jamaica."

An inconclusive end to a desultory press conference that left more questions than answers and probably did little to still the controversy around the ministry.

On Wednesday, the companies that supply pharmaceuticals to the Ministry of Health sent out a press release vouching that quote, "the open tendering process ensures the safe and effective supply of pharmaceuticals to the public system," end quote. And while we wouldn't expect them to bite the hand that feeds, the release adds that they also quote, "support the strict standards maintained by the ministry." The release is signed or stamped by all the suppliers. We count about 15 of them.

Today, the Pharmacists Association of Belize sent out its response to that release, asking the suppliers for "verification of their certificates of Good Manufacturing Practices. They also ask for Evidence and statistics of testing carried out over the last three (3 years) and information on the laboratory that carried out the testing.

Channel 7