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Mar 28, 2008

Health Minister insists Gov’t. cannot afford N.H.I.

Story PictureTwo months into the new administration of the United Democratic Party, today we questioned Minister of Health Pablo Marin about the roll-out of the National Health Insurance plan. Viewers may recall that the previous government promised the scheme would be implemented during the first quarter of 2008. Amid concerns about the price tag of the N.H.I., in December then Minister of Health Jose Coye assured Belizeans the cost was affordable. But according to Marin, that claim was nothing more than a political hoax as a check of the Treasury revealed the project will cost much more than Government can cough up.

Pablo Marin, Minister of Health
“What we notice that the past government wanted to do was like a political gimmick for them to attract more people to vote for them. Understand? When we encountered the N.H.I. we don’t have the money to further the N.H.I. programme.”

Marion Ali
“For the National roll-out?”

Pablo Marin
“Yes, for the national roll-out. We only have money like for two months. What will we do after that? So we had to put the N.H.I. in a hole right now. What the Ministry will do right now is to concentrate in the different hospitals around Belize and to upgrade them. Right now we done start da Corozal. We didn’t have any x-ray machine. By next month we should have an x-ray machine. Our morgue in Corozal wasn’t good so we’re upgrading that. In Orange Walk we’re looking at an ultrasound machine that is coming in. I went in San Pedro, which is a tourist destination. It’s only working from eight till five. That should be working twenty-four hours for me. So that is what I’m doing.”

Marion Ali
“But the last Minister had explained in detail how exactly he proposed to do this. “

Pablo Marin
“He outlined that but he didn’t tell you what amount of finance we have for this programme. Like I’m saying, this is something good. I am not saying it’s something bad but we cannot afford it.”

Marion Ali
“So when do you see this coming on stream?”

Pablo Marin
“Not right now.”

Jose Coye, Minister of Health (21 December, 2007)
“I think for anyone to go and to say that we cannot afford to provide the N.H.I., is wrong, it’s not true. We have to afford to do it and we can do it. The question, the challenge that is facing us is not the primary health care, we have no choice in that; if we have sixty-seven million alone in the budget just for the public sector, and even if we were to have a hundred percent registration, which is very unlikely, and even putting at the highest of forty-one million, of course we can do it. But, what do we do now for the secondary and the tertiary care? That is what the challenge should be. It’s not about the N.H.I. in the terms of a primary care package with the supporting services.”

Marion Ali
“You said forty-one million is a little bit excessive, how much do you put it at?”

Jose Coye
“I would say, that based on our history of the N.H.I. so far on the southside and in the south, if you get about say eighty percent registration, which is about the highest we may get on the average, I would say it would bring us down to pretty round about thirty-one, thirty-two million. And then the Ministry of Health, you see what we are providing already and have been providing, we will continue to provide that. So when we project that thirty-one million, it’s not that we have to go and look for thirty-one million, we have an amount of that already within the Ministry of Health. So what we have been providing already through the Ministry of Health, we will change the model of delivery. Instead of giving it through the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Health then can buy it.”

According to Marin, under his direction, health officials will focus efforts on improving the services being offered at hospitals and health centres throughout the country.

Marin was in Belize City today to participate in a bidding exercise as local suppliers publicly tendered to provide basic drugs to Government pharmacies. In all, thirty local pharmaceutical companies submitted price quotes. According to Chief Pharmacist Sharon Sanchez Anderson, the process is part of the Ministry’s goal to enhance its services and should ensure that patients receive quality medicines.

Sharon Sanchez Anderson, Chief Pharmacist, Ministry of Health
“We publicised the offer for local suppliers and distributors to bid on the list of selected items and to offer a quote as to what price they’ll be able to bring it in. We focused on the local suppliers because we also have a contractual term which requires them to store and distribute the products for us. So what will happen is that the suppliers who win the bid will be asked to procure the items, store it and distribute it to the various health facilities countrywide on demand from us.”

Marion Ali
“But what’s wrong with the old system why we need to change?”

Sharon Anderson
“What’s wrong with the old system is that with the restricted tender that we had the past couple years, the suppliers just bring in the items and we as the Ministry have to warehouse it. You know the concept of health reform where we’re getting out of this service delivery but more of a regulatory aspect that the Ministry must undertake. If we relinquish that responsibility of warehousing our drugs then we will be free to do proper monitoring and be able to have a better idea as to what we have available, where it is at so that we can avoid stock-outs cause we’ve always had problems where we don’t have medicines here and we don’t medicines there.”

Anderson says personnel from the Ministry of Health will pay keen attention to the origin of pharmaceutical products, the quality that goes into producing the drugs, and expiration dates.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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