Papua New Guinea
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Foreign exchange affects procurement of medicine

BY GRACE AUKA SALMANG

Difficulties in procuring the necessary foreign exchange to acquire Tuberculosis (TB) drugs is causing a shortage of TB drugs in the country.

The Health Department has also confirmed that a number of TB cases have been reported in health facilities around the country in the first quarter of 2023 and this is expected to translate into a further increase in TB cases in 2023.

In PNG, TB cost 5200 lives too each year, and according to international data and local data, PNG is facing a TB crisis and ranks 10th globally for rates of TB.

According to a letter sighted by this paper dated July 19, 2023, to the provincial TB coordinators, provincial disease control officers and director Public Health from the National TB Program Office, it is anticipated that we will experience a shortage of TB Drugs (Adult FDC) during the month of August and the first week of September.

In the letter, acting National TB Program manager Dr Margaret Kal stated that these delays were primarily caused by technical challenges, including difficulties in procuring the necessary foreign exchange to acquire the TB drugs.

“Currently, we are facing a shortage of TB drugs due to delays in the shipment from the Global Drug Facility (GDF).

“It is crucial for us to come together as a team and address this drug shortage issue holistically within the TB program.

“Our efforts should be directed towards resolving this challenge at both the provincial health facility levels,” she said.

To effectively manage the situation, Health Secretary Dr Osborne Liko yesterday said there are now steps taken to address the spike in TB cases and these include:
– The Health Department is currently dealing with a noticeable increase the number of TB cases nationwide.
– The National TB Program has taken the following actions; Source additional funds to plug funding shortfalls partly triggered by the increase in TB cases; Relocate TB drugs in facilities around to country to areas with the biggest need; and Request development partners to assist with supplying drugs as donations or though drug lending arrangements within the region.

“I have written to the Governor of the Bank of Papua New Guinea to facilitate fast clearance of foreign exchange for the purchase of TB drugs.

“This is an issue beyond our scope of operation and we seek understanding from our partner government agencies.”

He said people are reminded that the spread of TB can be prevented by avoiding crowded areas, ensuring that cases are quickly reported, and ensuring that patients taking TB medication complete the full course of the treatment.

Dr Kal is urging all her TB officers to assess the number of patients who commenced treatment in June and July, and verify whether the IP phase was administered for the full two months or only one month.