Friday, June 21, 2024

El Universal reports ‘mega pharmacy’ has low stock of medications

Federal authorities have dismissed a report by El Universal newspaper that the newly inaugurated state-owned “mega pharmacy,” set up to address Mexico’s medication shortages, currently stocks less than 1% of the drugs it was designed to offer.

According to a freedom of information request made by El Universal, the Laboratorios de Biológicas y Reactivos de México (Birmex) facility in Huehuetoca, México state, has capacity for 280 million medicine packets.

The mega pharmacy has launched with only 2.5 million medicine packets, less than 1% of its total capacity. (Presidencia/Cuartoscuro)

However, at a press conference on Jan. 19, Birmex director Jens Pedro Lohmann Iturburu announced that the pharmacy had launched with only 2,465,975 packets — 0.9% of its total reported capacity.

El Universal reported that Birmex’s stores were worth just under 120 million pesos (US $7 million); the federal government allocated 196 billion pesos (US $11.43 billion) for the pharmacy’s budget in 2023-2024.

The “Well-Being Mega Pharmacy” was inaugurated on Dec. 29, and hailed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as possibly “the largest pharmacy in the world.” AMLO touted the facility as the answer to Mexico’s chronic medicine shortages — the federal government failed to fulfill 42.7 million prescriptions between 2019 and 2022.

However, in response to El Universal’s information request, the head of Birmex reported that the pharmacy had only filled 67 prescriptions in the 21 days up to Jan. 19, despite 6,364 requests.

Birmex said that 4,069 requests had been rejected due to lack of a prescription or necessary paperwork.

Birmex also revealed that the facility was calling on other health institutions — specifically state-run health services IMSS, ISSSTE and IMSS-Bienestar — to fulfill requests for drugs, rather than relying on its own stores.

Speaking at President López Obrador’s Tuesday morning press conference, Zoé Robledo, head of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), dismissed El Universal’s report as “ill-intentioned.”

Robledo said it was misleading to cite Birmex’s storage capacity as 280 million packets, as this is based on “not only the mega pharmacy, but also what they were able to see in the visit, the Distribution and Storage Center, which is the largest space.”

Securing Mexico’s access to medicine has been a major policy for President López Obrador during his sexenio, something the Birmex project was meant to address. (Presidencia/Cuartoscuro)

He insisted that “the mega pharmacy has all the medicines and also has a contact center people can call” that is supposed to then coordinate distribution in the state where a patient is located.

However, questions remain about whether Birmex’s stock of 2.4 million packets is enough to tackle Mexico’s ongoing medication shortage. El Universal reported that 11.3 million prescriptions went unfilled in 2020, 5.92% of the total, compared to 0.44% in 2018, the final year of the previous administration.

With reports from El Universal and El Mañana

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