There had been several articles in the country’s newspapers in recent days asking questions about the current level of essential drugs and non-consumables available in the country. These articles called for interventions to improve the supply and availability of essential drugs and other essential non-consumables at all our hospitals and clinics throughout the country.
The Prime Minister was briefed earlier this week on the current status of essential drugs and non-consumables A briefing on the current situation was provided to the Prime Minister earlier in the week. This press release provides the latest information on the levels of essential drugs and other non-consumables within the Ministry of health and medical services.
The availability of essential drugs and non-consumables in the country is affected by three things (i) procurement from the international market, (ii) fast release from ports authority after they get to the country, and (iii) rapid distribution to NRH, HCC and all provinces. Delays in any of these three areas will compromise the stocks of medicines and non-consumables available in our health facilities.
With regards to the current , as of Monday 27th March 2023, our stock levels for essential drugs stood at 71 percent and for consumables at 89 percent. 29 percent of essential drugs were out of stock and 11 percent of consumables.
Early this week we received fresh stocks of several essential drugs and consumables by airfreight provided by the Australian government. Additional supplies of essential drugs and consumables will be arriving in the coming days thereby providing a buffer of about three months’ supply of essential drugs and consumables pending the arrival of our bulk orders. We thank Australia for providing about four months supply of out-of-stock essential medicines which will ensure we still have capacity to respond to our service needs until our full orders arrive in the country.
Currently, seven  containers, 25 cartons, and 2 pallets of essential drug supplies and consumables are held up at the wharf. Delays in the processing of payments to the Solomon Islands Ports Authority and Shipping Agents had been an ongoing cause for delays. Payment documentations have been processed by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury. Ministry of Health is now awaiting payment to be made for release of the medical consignment held at the port.
In addition, we anticipate the arrival of the rest of our essential drugs and consumables in shipments expected in April, May and June 2023. Once these orders all arrive, we will be back up to our ‘full stock level’ on all essential drugs and non-consumables.
However, prior to the arrival of these stocks, the supplies we have and are airfreighting with the assistance of Australia will help bridge the gap until all our normal procurement orders arrive.
We procure our essential medicines and non-consumables through tender and using experienced, overseas-based preferred suppliers. Our preferred suppliers source our orders from manufacturers. The COVID-19 pandemic had seriously impacted the drug manufacturing and supply chain mechanisms leading to delays in the assembly and despatch of our orders on time. This has delayed the arrival of our orders into the country.
Slow payment from our end to the preferred suppliers had also been a major issue. One major preferred supplier that supplies many of our essential drugs had just pulled out of their contract due to non-payment. This has caused huge challenges as we had to activate urgent alternative procurement processes to replace the commodities in the order that was abandoned, which also ended up more costly.
The Ministry of health is refining its bulk procurement process for essential drugs and consumables to accommodate these delays and unforeseen circumstances. The Ministry of Finance and Treasury must also prioritise the release of payments to preferred suppliers selected through tender process to source, procure and supply the required essential drugs and non-consumables.
Another major challenge facing the Ministry of Health is the timely distribution of drugs and non-consumables from the National Medical Stores to provinces.
Shifting consignments of drugs and consumables from Honiara to the provinces and especially to rural and remote clinics is extremely challenging. The challenges involve lack of regular shipping and high freighting costs. Cargo ships are reluctant to take medical supplies mostly due to slow payments. Some no longer accept government LPOs.
The Ministry currently uses shipping and airfreight to move drugs and non-consumables to provinces. However, on many occasions the supplies are taken back to the Medical stores because local cargo vessels refuse to take the medical cargos.
The Prime Minister asked the Ministry during the meeting to (i) explore other modalities of procurement of essential drugs and non-consumables from overseas to ensure we do not continually face the challenge of running out of essential drugs and non-consumables; (ii) discuss with MOFT and agree on a ‘fast-track payment system’ for ports charges and agents fees, (iii) explore the acquisition of a dedicated ‘medical supplies ship’ that can undertake distribution of medical supplies including essential drugs and non-consumables to all provinces on a regular basis.
The Ministry assures the people of Solomon Islands that it had ordered the full requirements of essential drugs, non-consumables and other medical supplies in good time. However, delays at the international levels due to the impact of COVID-19 on manufacturers, had affected the supply chain and delayed the arrival of some of the important essential drugs we had procured. These are now on track and all shipments will be in the country by June 2023.
In the meantime, with the support from Australia we have secured three- to-four – months supply of essential drugs to fill the gap in the interim period as our orders trickles in.
The Ministry is working with the Ministry of Finance to put in place a ‘fast-track’ payment system for all medical supplies including essential drugs that arrive in the country to ensure they do not sit for long periods at our ports.
The Ministry is also exploring all options to enhance the transportation of essential drugs and non-consumables from the National medical Stores to all provinces, including the consideration of a dedicated medical supplies vessel.
The Ministry will keep members of the public informed regularly about the situation of essential drugs and non-consumables in the country.