Voinjama — The Board of Lofa County’s largest referral hospital, Telewoyan Memorial Hospital in Voinjama, has finalized plans for the introduction of a drug revolving fund system beginning March this year.
Reported By: Gbotolu Mawolo, LMD Responsible Health Reporting Fellow
The plan is geared towards averting challenges patients undergo as a result of the shortage of essential drugs at the facility. The shortage of essential drugs remains an age-old challenge for the hospital.
Patients are usually given prescriptions to buy medications at pharmacies and drugs stores, something, the hospital’s board chair says, undermines the efficient work of active medical staffs and at the same time poses serious health risks to the lives of patients in emergency conditions.
Atty. R. Koryon Borlay listed several disadvantages associated with sending patients or their caretakers out of the hospital to buy their own drugs.
Challenging, Risky for Patients
Majority of patients who go to the hospital are not health workers and are not capable of distinguishing between fake and quality drugs, Mr. Borlay said, adding that due to the hash economic situation in the country residents often buy cheap drugs that have no efficacy.
“This is the county’s biggest referral hospital and patients are rushed here at any time of the day. Imagine what our patients and caretakers go through midnight when Voinjama City is most often dark after 10 p.m. and where major medicine stores are closed,” he said of the health risks the situation continues to pose for residents. “Some people may have even lost their love ones while in search of certain essential drugs from one pharmacy to another.”
Dr. Jean Kaly, the hospital medical director, added that “any delay in medical work is dangerous”, cautioning that “the period of time it takes for a patient or caretaker to go out looking for an essential drug to buy may lead to another thing. It’s far better to have the drugs very close to us and we know best the quality of drugs our patients need.”
These are some of the several reasons that prompted the decision of the Board to request the Ministry of Health’s permission to rollout a drug revolving fund plan.
What is Drug Revolving Fund (DRF)?
The scheme, which is also known as Drug Revolving Fund (DRF), is a system that allows for revenue generated from the sale of drugs to patients is used to purchase new drugs and ensure availability, effective and efficient system at a public health facility. Its key objective is to ensure the sustainability and continuity of the supply of essential drugs to ensure health care delivery for communities.
The system has been successfully implemented in several sub-Sahara African countries including Nigeria where funds flow from large health facilities to small and more remote health centers to meet their target of drug availability for rural communities, according to the World Bank.
Ban of Sale of Drugs also Prompts Decision
It can be recalled that in November last year, the hospital administration banned the sale of drugs within the hospital’s premises, prompting applause and calls for the introduction of a drug revolving scheme to avert the shortage of essential drugs at the facility.
Albert M. Colee, the Hospital Administrator, told reporters at the time that the decision was made after the administration observed that some staffers of the hospital were turning the hospital into a “complete business center.” He said some patients were complaining that some health workers of the hospital were selling drugs to them at high cost.
But some health workers, names withheld, who spoke with our reporters, claimed that they were not selling drugs to patients for exploitations but to save them the risks of going out to buy drugs on their own.
Others said that it was also intended to aid the health care delivery system of the hospital instead of waiting for patients or their caretakers to return with drugs needed to be used during emergencies.
“It was our own drugs, not government drugs,” one health worker said.
However, many residents in the county, including the hospital administration condemned the act of health workers. They argued that not all patients would be able to distinguish between the government drugs and health workers personal drugs considering that the facility is government-owned.
Drugs ‘Sold at a Very Low Cost’
Meanwhile, after series of consultations, the Ministry of Health agreed that the hospital roll out its drug revolving fund scheme with the board Chair disclosing that it will begin in March.
Anyone seeking service at the Telewoyan Memorial Hospital will pay L$50 as registration fees, the Board announced through its Chair.
Mr. Borlay added that all services and drugs available will be “free of charge” but patients will be required to buy drugs and medical materials not readily available.
He disclosed that the hospital is partnering with a faith based Non-governmental organization, Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL), for the procurement of medical supplies.
“All medical supplies by CHAL will be kept in a separate pharmacy apart from the hospital own pharmacy where government supplies are kept,” he explains. “Our drugs and other medical materials will be sold at a very low cost because we will not be selling for profit making but for [drug replacement] to ensure that we don’t go short of essential drugs for our patients again.”
Residents Want Accountability
Upon breaking the news to the public about the new plan, several residents embraced the decision but called for “proper accountability” in the process.
Tamba Washington Checker of Foya City said, “accountability is very key in everything that we do, especially when it has to do with money business”, adding that it would take proper accountability to sustain the system.
“This is exactly what we have been requesting for, but we hope that the hospital Board will institute a strong system for proper accountability,” added Jerry Sakama, a resident of Voinjama City. “Patients who come from out of town really suffered to buy their own drugs mainly, when it’s their first time visit to Voinjama City and have no other person to lead them to credible medicine stores or pharmacies.”
As for Joseph Kollie, who lives in Zorzor City, the drug revolving system should be introduced at all government-run health facilities in the county.
“Patients are receiving drug prescriptions at almost all government health facilities in this County even the Nation at large,” Kollie said of the challenges drug shortage pose to residents.
Piloting System at Telewoyan
Responding to the call for introduction of the system across the county, the County Health Officer, Dr. John S. Doedeh, said that the system will be piloted at the largest hospital in the county to access its feasibility.
“The beginning of everything is hard,” said Dr. Doedeh. “Since Telewoyan Memorial Hospital is the county’s biggest referral hospital, the system will begin from there and will later spread to other government facilities based on feedbacks gather.
Meanwhile, commenting on public’s call for ‘accountability of the system”, Board Chair Borlay said that the Board has resolved that the L$50 registration fees will be used for the procurement of stationaries for proper upkeep of records.
“If you buy even a single tablet of paracetamol, we will give you a receipt,” he said, adding that the same money will be used to provide stipends for staff assigned at the impatient and outpatient departments of the hospital.
“We will closely monitor this process and will make sure that the right thing is done in the best interest of our people.”