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Updated on May 20, 2020 From The Irrawaddy

Myanmar to Double Health Spending to Supply Free Medicines

Naypyitaw — The Ministry of Health and Sports will double its expenditure on health care to provide free medicine at public hospitals, according to minister Dr. Myint Htwe.

The ministry will increase its health expenditure to 300 billion kyats (US$216 million) starting from the next fiscal year that will start in October to provide free medicine as the numbers seeking treatment at public hospitals has increased year by year, he said.

Dr. Myint Htwe said the number of inpatients at public hospitals increased from 2.75 million in 2016 to 2.93 million in 2017, 2.96 million in 2018 and 3.15 million in 2019. The number of outpatients also increased from 10 million to 12 million, which led to rising demand for pharmaceuticals, said the minister.

The ministry also increased its spending on free medicine, from 98 billion kyats ($70 million) in 2016-17 to 135 billion kyats ($96 million) in 2017-18 and 46 billion kyats ($33 million) in the six-month transitional budget year in 2018, 125 billion kyats ($89 million) in 2018-19 and 143 billion kyats ($102 million) this fiscal year, said the minister.

“We are making sure we obtain 300 billion kyats worth medicines. If we can spend 300 billion kyats, most hospitals will have medicines,” said Dr. Myint Htwe.

The ministry will not ask for the additional budget for the free medicines, he said.

The minister revealed the plan in response to Lower House lawmaker U Ne Lin Aung’s complaint on Monday that patients were not receiving free medicine at public hospitals.

The lawmaker also asked that the ministry announce the lists of medicines provided for free to patients at public hospitals.

“Doing so will help reduce unnecessary problems between health workers and the people, as well as help control corruption and misappropriation,” said U Ne Lin Aung.

The health ministry since 2018 had instructed hospitals to display the lists of medicines purchased with the government budget and medicines provided for free so the public knows what is available, said the minister.

“It is not difficult. I will get it done in one month. I guarantee and I promise,” said Dr. Myint Htwe.

Though the ministry will make sure hospitals publish their allocated budget and the medicines provided for free, it will be difficult to publish daily updates of the medicines in stock, said the minister.

Hospitals should regularly update the existing stocks of medicines for greater transparency, said a Pyay Township resident who was treated as an outpatient at a public hospital, on condition of anonymity.

“There are supervisors at pharmaceutical stores at hospitals. They have lists of how much medicine is being removed. If they could transparently hang the lists of which medicines are out of stock and how much of what medicine is available, it will help reduce corruption,” he said.

While some medicines ran out, others had to be dumped in large quantities after passing their expiry dates, according to hospital sources.

The minister admitted that waste was an issue. “There is a lot of waste in purchasing 143 billion kyats worth of medicine. We are improving the supply chain. We will continue improving it because we don’t want to see waste when we spend 300 billion kyats,” Dr. Myint Htwe told Parliament.

Besides medicines provided for free by hospitals, 33 other medicines are directly purchased and distributed by the central government, including treatment for venom, rabies, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the ministry.

Apart from the hospitals, clinics and rural health care centers overseen by the Public Health Department receive around 14 million patients annually.

IMAGE: An outpatient department at a hospital in Yangon. / The Irrawaddy
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