Britain’s The Lancet Blames Drug Shortages on AMLO

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Britain’s highly acclaimed medical journal The Lancet on Monday, July 26, put the blame for Mexico’s ongoing shortage of crucial pediatric oncological medications squarely on the shoulders of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

More than a year before the covid-19 pandemic arrived in Mexico in March 2020, the magazine wrote, the country was plagued by a serious health problem: Oncological drugs for children with cancer were in short supply and without them, thousands of minors were dangerously close to a critical situation.

So far, at least 1,600 of these children have died due to the lack of medications.

On several occasions, desperate parents of these minors closed the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) to demand that the government purchase the drugs, despite the fact that the authorities repeatedly denied the shortages.

The Lancet, which was founded in 1823 and is considered to be one of the world’s most important medical journals, said that the scenario has remained in Mexico for the last two years, adding that the shortages “are the result of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador modernizing the process of purchasing pharmaceutical products, which he considered plagued by corruption and price hikes.”

The Lancet said that it is not only cancer drugs that are in short supply as a consequence of AMLO’s actions.

There is also limited access to other crucial medications, such as metformin and insulin (both used to treat diabetes, which is rampant in Mexico) and non-covid-19 vaccines, according to media reports and a study de Cero Desabasto (Zero Scarcity), a collective of nongovernmental organizations, The Lancet pointed out.

“The problem started long before the pandemic and is specific to Mexico,” Andrés Castañeda Prado, a collaborator in the Cero Desabasto study, told The Lancet.

Consequently, Castañeda Prado said, the drugs have had to be purchased on the black market by relatives.

Cero Desabasto documented that in 2019, the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) failed to fill 2 percent of prescriptions, a percentage that increased to 8 percent in 2020.

“The main cause of the shortages was inefficiency in management, planning and purchasing,” Castañeda Prado said.

Among the vaccines that have registered shortages, Cero Desabasto reported a 92 percent decrease in tuberculosis inoculations compared to 2019, an 81 percent decrease in tetanus vaccines, and a 73 decrease in human papilloma vaccines, all due to the government disqualifying the main suppliers of these drugs.

According to The Lancet, “analysts attribute the shortage to a lack of planning, not appreciating the complexities of purchasing pharmaceuticals and overlooking difficulties in distribution.”

The parents’ protests have put the issue in the public eye, and government authorities have repeatedly promised to solve the shortage.

Mexican Public Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell tried to pass the blame to the protesting parents, who he were part of an “almost coup” campaign by opposition leaders.

However, the specialists consulted by The Lancet did not agree with either the president or the undersecretary.

Rather, they said that “the problem is that this government has canceled processes that existed without being clear about what it was going to do next.”

Between 2013 and 2018, the magazine said, Mexico had consolidated purchases through the IMSS that supplied drugs at the state and federal level.

This process had worked well until López Obrador put the Finance Secretariat in charge, and then transferred that responsibility to the National Institute of Health and Welfare (Insabi).

“Insabi has boasted about saving money when what really has happened is that it did not buy the medications,” said Xavier Tello, a health consultant to the magazine.

“They are cutting costs to use the money for something other than medicine.”

According to The Lancet, people in the pharmaceutical industry said that “part of López Obrador’s plan for the pharmaceutical industry was to separate the distribution of pharmaceutical products from the purchasing process,” despite the fact that distributors consider that separating sales from distribution is not practical.

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