Doctors 'making huge profits on HIV drugs'
- Ramsammy appalled
Stabroek News
April 6, 2004

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Locally manufactured HIV/AIDS drugs which are given free to patients, are being sold by some doctors for exorbitant prices. This was revealed by an appalled Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy in a recent interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA).

"It has come to my attention that there are persons who are selling anti-retroviral drugs to patients. These drugs are free of cost," the minister said.

Yesterday he told Stabroek News that while the issue is not widespread he is concerned. He said patients have visited him and complained about the large sums of money they have to pay for just one bottle of triple-therapy drugs at private doctors who have access to the ministry's treatments.

Ramsammy said the ministry pays just under US$20 for a bottle of the drug and from reports he has received some doctors are selling the drug for as high US$100-150 per bottle.

Asked if the doctors could have purchased the drug directly from the company, New Guyana Pharmaceutical Cor-poration (New GPC), he said that information he has received from the company is that in the early stage of manufacturing the drug was sold to some private companies but not recently.

However, when contacted a source at the company told this newspaper that while it does not sell the drugs to private doctors in bulk, since it manufactures strictly for the Health Ministry, it still sells a small amount of the drugs privately to a few persons. The source said people who did not want to go through the public system, because they are concerned with the issue of confidentiality would usually approach the company directly. The source said that around ten bottles of the drugs are sold monthly to different persons.

Ramsammy, stating that the price of the drug should not be the cause for persons not to receive treatment, insists that if patients visit private doctors for treatment they should pay only for the services but not the drugs produced locally by the New GPC.

But a private doctor told this newspaper that the minister could not tell doctors to give patients the drugs free.

The doctor said doctors bought the drugs, regardless of the price they paid, they had every right to resell it. However, he said, the doctors only seek to make a minimal profit. He knows at least one doctor who treats patients privately and the patients pay for the drugs.

The minister said while the ministry has no evidence that persons within the ministry or the Georgetown Public Hospital are reselling the drugs it is an issue that is being investigated.

"Now these are somehow being sold to persons who are in turn reselling for exorbitant prices and we will not stand by idly and see people charging for drugs that most of the time they cannot afford," the release quoted the minister as saying.

He told GINA that relatives of the patients have a role to play in monitoring such illegal practices and issued an appeal to them to assist with accounting for the treatment.

"We cannot do it alone. We need the help of the public in monitoring the sale of these drugs," the minister said.

The release said that there are ten anti-retroviral drugs available to HIV/AIDS patients in Guyana and doctors determine which is the most effective for the patient.

The minister pointed out that the anti-retroviral drug bottles are similar but persons are asked to look for the label: `GPC for the Ministry of Health.'

It was in April 2002 that the health ministry introduced the administering of anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS patients free of cost.