– same company that supplied expired HIV test kits now accused of being single-sourced
An East Bank Essequibo company that has been fingered in the supply of expired HIV rapid testing kits is to also face a probe by the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
A complaint was filed yesterday by a Trinidadian-based company, Trans-Continental Medical Products Limited, which has raised the specter of insiders’ knowledge with regards to the supply a few days ago of 14 portable ventilators for use in the battle against the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
This latest twist would be part of the emerging side narrative in a case that has dragged in the World Health Organisation (WHO) and which has sparked investigations in Guyana and Kenya.
Ventilators are used by patients who have difficulties breathing on their own.
The Trini company also wants the regulator to investigate the supply of the 400 HIV test kits to the Ministry of Public Health in January and make its findings known.
The scandal involving the kits and now questions over the ventilators would come as Guyana has joined the world to battle the COVID-19. Already, Guyana has closed its borders with several communities under curfew as part of the measures to fight the spread.
With regards to the ventilators, from indications, Caribbean Medical had them in its possession since December.
Guyana only acknowledged that the COVID-19 was a pandemic in early March with immediate moves to secure equipment and other supplies.
With suppliers not normally purchasing and keeping in stock large quantities of ventilators, there have been burning questions whether the company had knowledge beforehand of the need by the Ministry.
In fact, it seemed that the Ministry zeroed in on Caribbean Medical for the ventilators, without searching around.
Yesterday, Trans-Continental in a complaint to PPC, addressed to The Chairperson, Mrs. Carol Corbin, said it has also come to its attention at this time that the Ministry has received 14 ventilators from its suppliers. (Department of Public Information release https://dpi.gov.gy/covid-19-update-additional-testing-kits-ventilators-received/)
“As a supplier, capable of providing a range of ventilators, portable and otherwise, who have been working with the Ministry for many years, we were not made aware that the Ministry had sent out notices asking for the supply of ventilators. We must now question if these 14 ventilators were procured following proper procurement procedures.”
The company requested an investigation into the procurement procedures for those ventilators. “…specifically, we are asking for details of advertisements, and other public documents /notices which would help establish the validity of this transaction.”
The Trinidadian supplier also appealed for the PPC to use its good office to investigate this matter and make the findings known to the stakeholders.
Trans-Continental said it has had, from time to time, cause to complain about the procurement system in Guyana when it comes to the supply of non-pharmaceuticals and other products.
“These correspondences were sent to Minister of Public Health, Hon. Minister Volda Lawrence, with copies forwarded to the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Collette Adams, Procurement Manager, Mr. Seewchan and other pertinent staff at the Ministry of Public Health. Specifically of concern to us, is that requirements, including need for credentials of authorised distributors, have not been complied with. Authorised distributors have been bypassed and contracts have been awarded to companies who are neither authorised distributors nor are affiliated with authorised and/or legal channels.”
Value for Money
According to the company in its complaint, this raises questions about value for money and quality of healthcare for the hardworking taxpayers of Guyana as all manufacturer warranties are not upheld.
Regarding the issue with the HIV test kits, Trans-Continental said that the case has deep implications for not only the safety of Guyanese people, but also for the integrity of the Ministry of Public Health’s procurement system in Guyana.
The company said it noted that the Ministry has taken an immediate decision to cease all delivery of drugs to be supplied by Caribbean Medical.
Trans-Continental, which is the region’s authorised distributor of the Uni-Gold HIV test kits, said that the contract between the Ministry and the Caribbean Medical has been the focus of the recent controversy as well as other products, which were awarded to Caribbean Medical in 2015, “for which we are and have been the sole authorised distributor for Guyana since 2005. As we have informed the Hon. Minister, the Permanent Secretary and the Procurement Manager on numerous occasions, these kits were also misappropriated from international donors and should not have been commercialised by Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc,” CEO, Garth Richardson, said in his complaint.
It was disclosed over the weekend that that the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) last month charged Davendra Rampersaud, the Area Manager of Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc. of Parika, East Bank Essequibo.
He reportedly appeared at the Leonora Magistrate’s Court, West Coast Demerara, accused of supplying 400 of the testing kits with misleading representation, a violation of the Food and Drugs Act of 1971.
According to the particulars of the charge, on 16th January, 2020, Caribbean Medical Supplies Inc. allegedly sold and supplied 400 units (20 packs) of Uni-gold HIV Test Kits, Batch #HIV7120026.
A quantity was later seized by the GA-FDD from the Materials Management Unit of the Ministry of Public Health, at Diamond, East Bank Demerara, and from local hospitals and laboratories.
On Friday, Director of GA-FDD, Marlan Cole, when contacted, was tight-lipped on the case, disclosing only that indeed an official of the company has been charged.
He said that there is an investigation ongoing with “other players” and he would be unable to comment further.
Permanent Secretary of the Health Ministry, Colette Adams, on Friday too said that she is “aware” of the matter, which is being investigated. She, too, did not give much detail.
What is known is that the Irish manufacturer, Trinity Biotech, in late January, wrote Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, warning that it is aware that there are counterfeit Uni-Gold HIV test kits in Guyana.
In fact, the Irish company supplied photographic evidence, which indicated clearly that the kits expired since July last year.
Trinity Biotech, in its complaint, named Caribbean Medical Supplies.
It was alleged by the manufacturer that fake boxes were created with expiry dates extended by 17 months and the kits repacked in them.
Trinity said that it had previously complained about Caribbean Medical Supplies to the Ministry.
According to a Ministry letter to Rampersaud dated February 14, 2020 and titled “Investigation of Falsified Unigold HIV Test Kits”, it became clear that there were attempts to deal with the matter.
Rampersaud would have been summoned to the office of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Colette Adams, where he was asked to submit shipping documents for the Uni-Gold testing kits procured for the Ministry.
With regards to the actual supply of the 400 kits, from indications, it was an order that was part of a contract dating back since 2015 MMU-10-2015-P6 (B) for $67,500,000.00 GYD.
The Auditor General has been asking about the kits since 2016 after no evidence was found that any kits were delivered.
Consecutive State Audit Reports flagged the transaction.
Yet, Caribbean Medical appeared to, at the inception, have collected the full contract sum paid by the Ministry.
In fact, after running short last year of the test kits, the Ministry insisted that Caribbean Medical fulfill its obligations or face consequences. It was then the 400 kits were delivered,
Under regulations, GA-FDD must give permission for food and drugs to be brought into the country.
It appeared from investigations, Health Ministry officials said, that GA-FDD was not even aware that the test kits had entered the country.
The case would probably have never made it to the court or caught the attention of the WHO had the Irish manufacturers and its authorised distributor in Trinidad not doggedly investigated the matter.
With regards to this transaction over the HIV testing strips, the WHO, in a rapid alert notice on Thursday, said in its alert that through its Global Surveillance and Monitoring System (GSMS) for substandard/falsified medical products, that it was informed that at least 8,240 falsified rapid diagnostic tests to detect HIV-1/2 have been distributed in Guyana at end-user level.
The WHO advised that users check to see if they have lot number “HIV7120026” and not to use them.
Rather, persons should immediately contact the supplier or the manufacturer, Trinity Biotech.
The WHO urged that there be increased scrutiny within the supply chains of all countries, particularly at testing sites (health facilities, community-based), clinical laboratories, medical stores/warehouses, and at the facilities of relevant economic operators (agents, authorized representatives, distributers, wholesalers, etc.).
From sources, it appeared that the kits were supplied to Kenya under financing from the US and were manufactured specifically for that area.
However, the strips were stolen and sold on the black market around the globe, to countries including Guyana.
Kenyan authorities were reportedly investigating.
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