Mexico is still facing medication shortages eight months after signing an agreement with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to collaborate on the international purchase of medicines, medical supplies and vaccines.
The federal government announced last July it had signed a deal with UNOPS that President López Obrador said would allow Mexico to obtain high quality medications and equipment all over the world at low prices and put an end to shortages.
Prior to that agreement, the government established a new system to purchase and distribute medications after dismantling the previous one. Under the new system, the ministries of Finance and Health are responsible for buying and distributing drugs whereas the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) and a network of private companies were previously in charge.
Despite the system change and the United Nations agreement, medication shortages still plague Mexico, according to a report by the newspaper Reforma.
The Cero Desabasto (Zero Shortage) collective, a group that monitors the availability of medications in the public health system and pressures the government to keep up supply, said there were supply problems with one of every four medications purchased in 2020.
Meanwhile, no consolidated purchases have been completed via the agreement with UNOPS , Reforma reported.
At the start of December, UNOPS launched tendering processes to find suppliers for almost 1,300 different medications and more than 600 medical products but hasn’t awarded contracts for the vast majority of them.
When IMSS was in charge of purchases, contracts were usually signed between the end of November and the start of January, Reforma said.
In light of the supply problems associated with the UNOPS collaboration, the State Workers Social Security Institute and Birmex, a majority state-owned medical company, have had to make their own emergency purchases, the newspaper reported.
The latter spent almost 3 billion pesos (US $145.8 million) at the end of January to purchase millions of analgesics and anticoagulants needed to treat Covid-19 patients.
According to the Mexican Institute for Competiveness (Imco), a think tank, the federal government’s performance with respect to purchasing medical supplies needed to respond to the pandemic has been poor since before the coronavirus arrived in Mexico and hasn’t improved.
The think tank, which earlier this month presented a report entitled A Year of Emergency Purchases in Mexico: Six Proposals for Improvement, said the government was slow to react at the start of the pandemic and that it wasn’t transparent about the purchases it did make.
Pablo Montes, Imco’s anti-corruption coordinator, said the government made similar mistakes later in the pandemic, explaining that it rushed to secure medical supplies when hospitals were again filling up quickly at the end of last year and as a result was unable to obtain good prices.
“A year after the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government hasn’t developed special mechanisms to purchase [medications and medical supplies] in times of emergency,” he said at the presentation of the Imco report.
“… Just as it has been widely said that the pandemic arrived in a Mexico with a deficient health system, it also arrived [in a country] with a defective public purchasing system and there have not been efforts to correct it. This has caused pandemic-related purchases to be opaque, tardy and [plagued] with irregularities,” Montes said.
Fernanda Avendaño, an Imco researcher, said the think tank’s study was based on information on the government’s online transparency platform CompraNet.
There are a lot of inconsistencies in the pandemic-related information uploaded to the site, she said, adding that there is scant information about medical purchases worth a combined 4 billion pesos (US $194.2 million).
“In addition to the [poor] quality of the information and in many cases the non-existence of same, there is a problem in the publication of this information,” she said, explaining that the details of many pandemic-related purchases were uploaded to the transparency platform well after they were made.
Imco general director Valeria Moy said it was regrettable that the federal government has not improved its medical-related purchasing practices a year after the coronavirus started spreading in Mexico.
“We saw that exactly the same thing happened in December [as occurred at the start of the pandemic], when everyone knew that another wave [of the virus] was coming. There is already talk of a third wave due to the relaxation of [health] measures in Holy Week. Are we preparing for the third wave or aren’t we?” she said, wondering if the government is already making the purchases necessary to treat a new influx of coronavirus patients to the nation’s hospitals.
“I believe there are a lot of lessons to be learned,” Moy added.
Source: Reforma (sp)