Kaieteur News- The President’s recent handling of complaints by members of the public was not demonstrative of the sort of standards one expects in such a situation. A Regional Health Officer was publicly embarrassed, and this ought never to have occurred on the basis of hearsay and unsubstantiated evidence.
The President, politically, is still in pampers. He is young and inexperienced being only 41 years old. As such, he must be forgiven for his youthful impetuosity and immaturity but not at the expense of others.
The recent incident was reported in the media. During a tour of one of the areas on the Corentyne, it is reported that some residents complained about the public health facilities not having the medication which they needed. One resident said she was forced to source the medication from a private pharmacy.
In response, the President is reported to have read the ‘riot act’ to the Regional Health Officer. He is reported as saying that that the information, which he was receiving was that there were no shortages and this is at odds with the claims of residents.
The President should be mindful of hearsay evidence. He ought never to take at face value what is told to him in such settings. A person making a complaint will highlight his or her experience and may be tempted to embellish the truth or may be selective.
Things can be exaggerated or misrepresented. It is not unusual within the health system for certain drugs not to be unavailable. This happens from time to time for various reasons. But the occasional unavailability of particular medications or their brands does not necessarily amount to a shortage.
Also, there are some persons who may be prescribed a particular medication for a condition but the identical product may not be available or not even stocked, or the brand to which the patient is accustomed to may have been exhausted. The patient may feel that the hospital does not have the medication when in fact it may not have the particular brand name, which the patient is accustomed to.
It is unreasonable to expect the public health system to have every medication, which is needed. This is simply not feasible. It makes no sense to stock certain items because only a few patients may need these drugs. As such, it makes practical sense to inform patients that the particular item is not stocked and they need to obtain it privately.
At present, patients have to pay for CT scans. It is not free and most people who need such scans have to pay a portion of the fee. Some persons are also forced to pay for dialysis treatment since the public health system only offers limited free treatment. And people pay and claim the refund from the National Insurance Scheme. It should therefore not be considered an aberration for patients to be asked to procure certain medications privately.
It would be expected however that basic medications such as the treatment for blood pressure and diabetes, should always be in stock. These non-communicable diseases are among the highest contributors to deaths and therefore there should always be adequate quantities of medications to treat these conditions.
The President has to be circumspect about rushing to judgment in these matters. Not because a few persons claim that certain prescriptions were not fully filled, means there is a shortage. And there have been cases of known agent provocateurs conspiring to use public outreaches to try to malign certain public officials. This may not have been the case in this instance but it highlights the need for circumspection.
It is quite a different matter when it comes to first-hand information. The President had visited a number of sluices in Georgetown and found the pumps not working at the time. He witnessed this for himself and therefore has first-hand information and therefore would have been justified in arriving at his conclusions.
But more importantly, the President should never litigate a matter in public. If there is an allegation, there should be an investigation before anyone is given a tongue-lashing, especially a senior public servant.
If that official is negligent, he or she should face the appropriate sanctions, but not without a proper investigation. It was unwise of the President to publicly upbraid the Regional Health Officer based on second-hand information and without an investigation.
It was also surprising that the President would ask the Minister of Local Government, rather than the Minister of Health, to undertake such an investigation. This is poor judgment; the Minister of Health should have been the appropriate Minister to investigate except where an independent investigation is required.
The President has won great admiration for his hands-on approach to the management of problems. He is seen as a “go-getter” and has a good heart.
But in his enthusiasm, he has to be careful not be rash, much less brash, and he should be extra careful in taking for granted what members of the public tell him. And he has to be fair to public officials and not subject them to public humiliation.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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