By G. Michael Reid
I hereby ask forgiveness of all those readers who tolerate my weekly rhetoric since I had need of a two week hiatus. My absence was necessary to attend to an urgent medical situation. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has wreaked havoc on my frame and has necessitated the replacement of several joints. Science has not yet found a way to halt the damage that RA does to joints nor have they found a way to help the joint to repair itself. They have found a way to replace those joints that become severely damaged and I have since had the need to replace both hips and a knee. Hopefully, this latest replacement will set me on relatively good footing for a fair period of time and allow me to once again move around and be productive. I must say a big thank you to Dr. Francis Smith and Dr. Roberts, who together, have been remarkable at stitching and patching up of my dilapidated frame. Thanks to the nurses and other helpful staff members of the Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital. Many thanks also to my family and friends who have been most helpful and supportive during my “downtime”.
I would have loved to have traveled abroad for this latest procedure but financial constraints left Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) as the only option. I was determined not to solicit anymore handouts so I sold ‘stole and barrowed’ all that I could and haggled with the doctors for a good deal. I have had success in a previous surgery at the KHMH and do not share the fear of that institution that some people do. Having been there before on several occasions and seeing what is happening though, I believe gives me authority to assess and compare between what it was and what it is today.
KHMH is Belize’s flagship hospital providing care primarily to those who cannot afford to visit the two private hospitals or to seek medical attention abroad. It does not have a good reputation which is a disservice to the hard working doctors and nurses who toil there on a daily basis. The KHMH which is a fairly new hospital was built in 2005 to replace the Old Belize City Hospital which was on Eve Street in Belize City. That hospital originally was founded way back in 1820 with an initial purpose to provide medical services for sick seafaring men. The hospital converted to a general hospital in 1871 and has been serving the sick of Belize ever since, albeit enduring a series of conversions over the years. When the new hospital was opened in 1995, the name was changed to honor the memory of Dr. Karl Huesner who had rendered selfless service to Belizeans over previous decades. Dr. Huesner was famous throughout the Caribbean and Latin America for his expertise in tropical diseases. As well as conventional medicine, Huesner was well versed in the use of herbal remedies and local plants. He was very popular in early Belize and no one objected to the new hospital bearing his name. The KHMH Act of 2000 incorporated the hospital as a statutory body and designated it as the country’s national referral point. KHMH is administered by a Board of Governors but is run primarily on government funding.
The board of the KHMH, of course, is politically appointed and following the UDP’s 2008 victory at the polls, the old board was dismantled and a new one appointed. It was not long however, before major implications began coming forth. In June of 2009 the doctors of the KHMH made a demand for the resignation of then Board Chairman Dr. Ricardo Fabro and accused the hospital of wasting taxpayers’ money by paying exuberant prices for substandard products. A Commission of Inquiry was launched but in the end, things remained pretty much the same. One aspect of the Inquiry that should have raised more alarm than it did was testimony of Deputy Auditor General Wayne Simon who on the first day of the inquiry testified that, “The changes made by the CEO Ministry of Health in most cases apparently resulted from a selection of cheaper alternative brands. The tender committees’ recommendations for the most part were not taken by the CEO Ministry of Health. Instead suppliers with cheaper generic brand were contracted…”
This brings us to the latest indiscretion from those quarters. The recent appointment of a relatively untrained and unskilled political crony to head the newly created post of Drug Inspectorate should be of major concern to not only pharmacists but all Belizeans. The procurement of drugs is a serious matter and according to the Pharmacists Association of Belize (PAB), “Belize is plagued with a myriad of issues related to the quality of pharmaceuticals. These issues pose numerous direct threats to the health and safety of the people of the country”. What is important to note is a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) that revealed that as much of 25% of medicines used in developing countries like Belize are counterfeit. This is alarming!
In a March 2011 story carried by the popular and credible CBS 60 Minutes, noted physician and journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a report on companies in India that specialized in manufacturing counterfeit medicine and selling them to countries like Belize. Dr. Gupta found that these laboratories that were set up in backroom apartments and basements manufactured many fake medicines such as antibiotics, blood pressure and pain medications. Dr. Gupta and his team discovered that the fake drugs were manufactured under very unsanitary conditions and carried ingredients like highway paint, floor wax and chalk. The fake companies even duplicated the names, logos and packaging of genuine medicine.
The concern is that these fakes so closely resemble the real stuff that even experienced and qualified persons have trouble distinguishing the real from the counterfeit. For the government of Belize to hire unqualified persons to provide oversight on drugs is dangerous. We all know that for the sake of greed and an opportunity to hustle, politicians and their cronies will readily sacrifice the safety of the people for their personal enrichment. We cannot take our eye off of this situation and must stand in solidarity with the pharmacists who are demanding that the best possible person be hired for this very important job. The very health of our nation is at stake. This unscrupulous nepotism and cronyism must be stopped or we will all suffer the consequences. Maybe if we insisted that our elected officials use the same facilities and the same drugs that we consume might help the situation. If Dean Barrow, Kim Simplis and Michael Finnegan had to use the same hospitals and drugs as the rest of us, I bet they would exercise better care. This Animal Farm system of governance must stop!