Photo: OAO Pharmstandard

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

A day late and a dollar short does not even begin to describe the backlog of direly needed medications that the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has failed to provide in Mexico.

After six months, the UNOPS, the organization to which the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) paid 2.389 billion pesos to carry out the consolidated purchase of medicines, has only managed to provide 55 percent of the 1,184 key medications required by the country’s public health sector.

As desperate parents of cancer-inflicted children clamor for the government to provide the life-saving drugs their family members so desperately need, only to be accused by public health officials of trying to stage a coup against the government, the AMLO administration — nearly three years into its six-year term of office — still hasn´t been able to resolve the growing shortage of medications caused by the president’s decision to dismantle the Popular Medicine safety net for uninsured Mexicans and cancel all existing government drug purchase contracts.

According to a report emitted by the UNOPS’ own offices, the agency refused to purchase 31 percent of the medications it had committed to acquire because the pharmaceutical companies that bid to supply them were either “ineligible” due to alleged “past acts of corruption” or because they had been “sanctioned” in other countries.

Another 14 percent of the contracted , the UNOPS said, were simply voided because of excessive cost or lack of adequate availability.

Notwithstanding, Big Pharma, represented by the International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA), pointed out that among the drugs that were not purchased for Mexico were Metformin, or human insulin, which is prescribed to patients with diabetes (the Number One cause of death in Mexico), and Propofol, a short-acting intravenous anesthetic agent that increased in demand during the covid-19 pandemic because it is used in patients requiring mechanical ventilation (Mexico has the third-highest rate of covid deaths worldwide).

The IPA also warned that essential drugs like heparin, diclofenac, acetylsalicylic acid, clonazepam, ciprofloxacin, ceftriaxone and amoxicillin, which serve to treat acute and chronic degenerative conditions, were also not purchased.

“In this scenario, those who are the real losers are the patients,” noted Rafael Gual Cosio, head of Mexico’s National Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Canifarma).

Currently, there were more than 600 key prescription medications no longer available in Mexico, leaving millions of Mexicans unable to treat their conditions, Gual Cosio pointed out.

Even the most elemental of medications, such as aspirin to treat hypertension, are not being purchased by the UNOPS, he said.

In response to a report on Mexico’s growing shortages of medications published in El Universal newspaper, the UNOPS told the paper that 98 percent of its pending contracts had now been signed and would result in a supply of medicines becoming available as of June 2022 (cold comfort for patients who need their medications now).

The UNOPS said that it had so far awarded contracts for more than $3.1 billion after conducting “due diligence” research on providers to  “improve market transparency, promote effective competition and prevent corruption.”

And since 31 percent of the needed medications were being offered by pharmaceutical companies that did not meet UNOPS transparency standards, these drugs were simply not purchased.

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